God does not give us the desire of our heart;

God gives us the desire of His heart.

This is why our forgiveness and eternal rewards are just.

Selah.

On Thursday the 26th for practicum I was scheduled to preach. My sermon was titled, “The Throne of Glory”, the ironic twist being that this throne (Matt. 19:28; 25:31) is not the Father’s throne in heaven, nor the Davidic throne that Jesus will rule from in Jerusalem at His return, but is His cross. The punch in my message was that to have a faith that does not participate in Jesus’ cross is not a saving faith, and to not find this participation as glorious will cause such a one to be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

This is a teaching that has been maturing within me for nearly a year now. I was over-prepared, very practiced, and definitely pre-prayered. There is more than just a theological concept that I own concerning this – I walk this out with sincere intentions. During my morning hours in the prayer room I could tangibly feel the Father’s delight over me, and I had the excited expectation of building up to a breath-taking conclusion for those listening, hoping to recreate the feeling in them that the Lord birthed in me over this amazing truth.

At my turn, I took the mic, my instructor prayed for me… and immediately I felt… empty. Empty perhaps isn’t the best word. Confused is closer to the point. I don’t have language for this, but I knew that God had taken a huge step back, so to speak. At once a stupor came upon me, and everything seemed to go wrong. Trying to stir up something, I read my first quote: “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up…” Nothing. I forgot all my power statements, accidentally gave away the ending that I wanted to build up to (which did more than just ruin the conclusion – their understanding wasn’t yet groomed to handle the paradigm shift I was sharing), and I kept losing my place in the word and in my notes. All around I came across as if I never pray, didn’t study, and had taken on something too big. During constructive criticism, the class thought I was saying the exact opposite that I wanted to convey.

My emotions were going haywire – Why did God do this to me? Was I deserving of this? I felt so stupid in front of my classmates. What was the purpose of all this? My mind was sluggish for some time after this – nothing added up. It took the weirdest prophetic word that I’ve ever received to get myself back into agreement with who the Lord is, why I do what I do, and what it was that just happened. The word, essentially, was this: “You really did awful, and by it I don’t feel so bad about not having done well myself last week – your dying up there brought me life! You lived out your message: isn’t that glorious?!”

It took me a minute to get my bearings after such an odd, yet potent word. In the end I was filled with the Spirit’s laughter, and finally was able to see that what had just happened at the podium my Father in heaven took pleasure in doing. As my opening statement proclaimed, He crucified me up there, that He might raise me up in power. How was it that I did not recognize what all was taking place? My message, His absence, and even the lectern being wooden all pointed to crucifixion! What shrouded my eyes, and brought such confusion to my mind?

Not long afterward the Spirit brought to my remembrance some passages of the Passion. “…My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death” (Ps. 22:15); “…it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief” (Isa. 53:10). It was the Father who in love did this to His Son, yet there were others who in hatred stretched out their hands against Him, of particular note, targeting His face and head:

“…His visage was marred more than any man…” (Isa. 52:14); “And having blindfolded Him, they [the corrupt Jewish leadership] struck Him on the face…” (Luke 22:64); “…when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him [of Herod's gorgeous robe; Luke 23:11] and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified” (Matt. 27:26-31).

The Lord sought to lift me up, and desired that I find it glorious, yet the enemy beat at my head in hopes to keep me from conscientiously embracing my cross. Too often we run from crucifixion, wrongly thinking that it is the devil who killed Jesus. Scripture tells of a rather different account: Satan did not want Jesus on that cross, but offered Him a way out (Matt. 4:8-10), rebuked Him through Peter for speaking of it (Matt. 16:21-23), and while on the cross attempted to trick Him off of it (Matt. 27:38-44). Indeed, Paul wrote that the Jews would not have crucified Jesus if they had known the power of His death (1 Cor. 2:8).

Demons aren’t those who want you on your cross – it’s your heavenly Father who desires this. And to keep you from it, and from seeing the glory of it, fallen angels will primarily attack your head, first by temptation, then verbally through family and through those who hate you, and finally, when nothing yet has stopped you, in a last ditch effort they will aim to physically harm your head that you might remain up there yet confused throughout it. It is not dying that we are to beware of, but rather of confusion leading up to and then while upon our cross.

Death upon a cross is glorious: “… what you sow is not made alive unless it dies” (1 Cor. 15:36). Do you want, as James and John did (Matt. 20:20-23), to be seated to Jesus’ right and left in the age to come? This is a righteous desire, but do you know what you are asking? In all of our farsightedness, we must be cautious not to neglect foresight. We must seat ourselves beside His throne of glory in this age, beside His cross, for it is only on Golgotha that we are ever explicitly told of people “seated” to His right and left (Matt. 27:38)! Do not allow the enemy to steal this truth away from you, for it will set you, sustain you, and satisfy your desire to be with Him where He is – first on the glorious cross, unto a glorious habitation of eternal joy and thanksgiving.

Be found with understanding

February 18, 2009

When confronted with great trials, we often do everything in our power to acquire as much knowledge as we can about those things which cause fears to manifest in us. When people are told they have cancer, for instance, more than likely the first thing that person wants to know is what kind, where, how bad, and is it treatable. This information is believed to somehow disspell the fear of cancer and of death, yet really knowing these things can do little to heal the person. What the victim of cancer really ought to drive themselves into is not the knowledge of cancer, but rather into the knowledge of God who formed the body, took on our frame, and died for us that through faith we who believe in Him may never die. It is the knowledge of the Creator, not the cancer, which will bring ultimate restoration, as it is in Him alone that we can entrust our hope.

A similar example is the phenomenon that children, when shown erected dinosaur bones, will initially back out of the room by a mixture of nightmarish fright and awe, yet when simply told the great beast’s name, there is that sudden familiarity. If truly faced with such a monster out of doors, knowing the name of the leviathan will do nothing to keep the child from harm. As with the case of Job, to fear the creature over the One who is its maker is to have no understanding at all. In the end, a man with a high IQ will taste just the same to a dragon as some mindless sheep; all his memorized data will prove unable to save him in the day of calamity.

The subject of the end of this age in the church of Jesus is grossly treated much like terrible lizards or a malignant disease. Mounting up knowledge about the great and terrible Day of the Lord cannot save anyone, unless it is predicated by a healthy relationship with this Lord who was, and is, and is to come. As a student of the living word and a teacher of eschatology, I have found that those who treasure the book of Revelation largely do so not for its pervading Christology, but for its many avenues of debate. Those who are drawn to apocalyptic Scripture typically are so because of a fascination with “esoteric” theology, deceived in some quasi-Gnostic way that this understanding will cause them to be beacons of light in even the worst raging storm. These ones are unaware of their blindness and wretchedness, and, not unlike the Laodiceans, are oblivious to the startling fact that Jesus is not in their midst, but in a final plea is knocking to be let in for their own sakes. Only intimate fellowship with the God-Man Jesus will sustain us in the last days.

And this is how Revelation begins. From the first sentence John makes clear that this particular unveiling of Jesus’ identity was specially given by God that His servants might understand His predetermined end-time events. Without this revelation of Jesus given in ch.1-3, the marvelous things described in ch.4-22 will only cause you to stumble and fall. Trusting in a chart of dates, events, and people can only cause offense in the day of great shaking. It is not the self-proclaimed scholars, but the people who truly know their God who “shall be strong and carry out great exploits” (Dan. 11:32). In the book of Acts, Jesus gives to His apostles an order of events: they are to tarry in Jerusalem, then He will pour out His Spirit, then they will go out into Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. However, when these events began to unfold, even the apostles were taken aback. “Whatever could this mean?” was a common question, and the answer given was never to point to a chart, but always to proclaim Jesus. It was the untrained and the uneducated who had fellowshipped with Christ who were pillars in the persecuted church. Have we graduated beyond the apostles of the Lamb, thinking ourselves smarter than they, and therefore more apt to be faithful than they? The eleven forsook Jesus in the Garden for a lack of belief that He had to suffer and die – what will happen to those who, like the Pharisees, believe they know the Messiah better than His closest friends?!

I am being convicted by my own writing! – which is much more terrifying than being hunted by a wild beast could ever be (Jas. 3:1). God Himself is coming down in the fullness of His glory and majesty, and all will be laid bare and laid low before Him. It is not death that we should fear, but the One who will cast Death itself into the lake of fire! Our fear of death causes us to cling to the things of this world because we lack faith in the resurrection of the dead. The fear of death subjects us to bondage (Heb. 2:15), and deliverance can only be had in “Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father” (Rev. 1:5-6). Becoming a friend of Jesus is to have true understanding.

The seven churches were never encouraged to overcome tribulation by special, secret knowledge. We see instead that it is only those in Christ who do not fear death that overcome Satan in all of his rage (Rev. 12:11). When the churches overcome their disbelief in the resurrection, it is then that their accuser will be cast out of the heavens. And we find that Jesus’ seven epistles given to all the churches have three strategic points: to give a revelation of who He is (“the things which you have seen”; cp. 1:12-17), our necessary response to His identity (“the things which are”; cp. “I know your works… repent…”), and the covenantal curse or blessing promised us based on our actual reaction to His unchanging nature (“the things which will take place after this”; cp. “Repent, or else… To him who overcomes…”). All of these three things stand upon faith in the resurrection, as these letters are given by Him “who lives, and was dead, and behold, [is] alive forevermore” (1:18), and make glorious promises only to those who are about to face pain and death.

These days are fast approaching, but will you be found with understanding in those days? Do not fall into the common presumption that simply being born-again is enough. Jesus warned five of the seven churches that if they were to continue on as they were, He would judge them exactly as He would Satan, the beast, the false prophet, and the harlot. The other two (Smyrna and Philadelphia) were assured crowns of life only if they held fast unto martyrdom. The first name given Jesus Christ in this last book is Faithful Witness, who was the Firstborn from the dead (1:5). If we are thinking upon the mystery of the number of the beast more than on the mystery of Jesus, then we’re already deceived and in danger of giving way to cowardice and unbelief (21:8). Our all-consuming desire must be to engage, encounter, and emulate Jesus. This is our safety, but more than that, to do so is to give to Him the reward of His sufferings. And for suffering for His name, He promises to us reward as well. Let us be ones found with understanding in the Day of His return, for our sakes and for His.

How to be made Perfect

November 18, 2008

Why did Jesus lay down His life? What was accomplished on the cross? Sacrifices in the temple already atoned for sins (or, covered; removed sins), a truth made plain in that the author of Hebrews wrote that “if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law” (8:4). What animal sacrifices could never do, however, was to cleanse our conscience (9:13-14; 10:1-2). When he wrote that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (10:4), speaking of the Day of Atonement (cp. Lev. 16:6-10), he did not mean that these sacrifices had actually done nothing all along, because clearly they did atone for sins (Lev. 17:11); what is meant here, then, is that these sacrifices could never cause a man, let alone a corporate people, to be perfect (Heb. 10:1).

But this is what Christ’s sacrifice was able to do that no other could. And this is what is meant by the promise of the new covenant, where God will no longer remember our sins (Jer. 31:31-34). When our Messiah was cut off, He ended sacrifice and offering (Dan. 9:27a), meaning that there was no longer a need for the Day of Atonement, because by His blood we are made a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), able to attain perfectness and to enter the promised Sabbath rest of God (Heb. 6:1; 4:9). This is because in Christ we stand before God as sons, now able to have a right relationship with Him. Our old man died with Christ, and our new man was risen with Christ. I am not the same man I once was, and I can testify of this because of His blood and my own crucified – or judged (Col. 3:5-11) – old man (cp. Rev. 12:11). His was not what is so commonly termed a “substitutionary” death, but a dying that we must sympathize with through daily participation if we are to ever cease from sinning (Rom. 6:1-11).

Praying Effectively

November 4, 2008

My wife and I just had an anointed discussion and time of prayer concerning abortion and the elections that will be decided today. We hate abortion, but when it ends, what will take its place? I say this because the true enemy of unborn babies is not Planned Parenthood, but the spirit of murder and the spirit of sexual immorality. It’s quite easy for us to take a stand against the killing of “fetuses” (which is Latin for baby), as we will never commit or support it; however, to say that we will never be found in agreement with murderous or sexually immoral spirits causes us, including me, to pause. To pray, “God, cast out the murdering spirits in America,” while harboring that very same unclean spirit within me, is to ask God to remove me from His presence! Interceding for abortion to end is safe; for the destruction of the spirit of murder, encroaching. This is only so because we pray for God’s kingdom to come, thinking ‘I can keep my own kingdom as well’ with all its disagreeing doctrines, and vainly imagine there can be peace between the two. This can never be so, and indeed, misunderstands the very purpose and power of the cross.

Rhetorically glamorous and invigorating prayer is ineffective if it is not spoken in faith by one who is in agreement with the One on the throne who is being entreated. Strategic intercession is unity with God and with your fellow man; is growing an intimate history with God; is from the place of having nothing in ourselves yet having everything in Him. Voters this day, having been bombarded with multifarious opinions and white noise for several months, will shut the door on all that and finally be left alone for but a short moment of silence, and cast their vote. Through campaigning, potential candidates will have made their (and their opponent’s) stances known, in the hopes of gaining supporters, voters, and victory. Through prayer, we can avail much more than mere campaigning, for one man who fellowships with God is always a majority. Hence, my exhortation to righteousness, for “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16). Lord, show us mercy, and let Your will be done; refine Your church that we would pray with authority; capture hearts, and shift set intentions and expectations – when all eyes are on Ohio, pull a fast one in California. Amen!

Man’s wisdom: “The Bailout Plan”

God’s wisdom: “The Baal-Out Plan”

Selah.

A String of Pearls

August 22, 2008

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Those who are farsighted are not necessarily foresighted.

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Carry your cross and let the pangs of death do a good work in you.

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The gift of faith takes all of your promises and sows them into the ground.

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It is foolish to pray for God to exact His justice if you are committing injustices.

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Do not be deceived: Jesus’ law is not more lenient than the law of Moses.

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Jesus’ death was not substitutional; we are to die with Him daily.

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Those who love their brethren have no fear of judgment.

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