Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Christian Hedonism -- What In The World Is That?

“I just want to feel – everything!”, the young man cried out upon his graduation from college. Like a young bird jumping at the opportunity to test its wings when leaving the nest, the young man made his exclamation. It sounds pretty innocent, right? Perhaps.

Whereas the above may sound like an innocent statement, it also can represent the beginnings of a slippery slope to trouble. Why? Because the statement: “I just want to feel -- everything!” has hedonistic overtones – the belief that pleasure and the pursuit of pleasure represents the greatest good. This philosophy is generally accompanied by moral indifference. According to the Bible, this is a characteristic of many people in the last days: "People will be lovers of themselves... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." II Timothy 3:2 & 4

Since its goal is pleasure, hedonism must involve the senses of the body. The more the better. It represents the height of “sensuality” and the philosophy expressed in the phrase: “if it feels good then do it!” If one were to travel the hedonistic road long enough, one would likely fall into a ditch of immorality, addiction, gluttony, or one of an assortment of other evils. Pain and disappointment would follow – two things hedonism seeks to avoid.

Solomon, the wisest man on earth, summed up the pursuit of pleasure well when he wrote: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” What did he discover along the way? “Everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

Biblically, sensuality (hedonism's twin) is viewed as a sin characteristic of those living apart from Christ (Ephesians 4:19). In the New Testament the word often translated "pleasure" is derived from the Greek word hedone - the root word for our word hedonism.

The Bible informs us that hedonism is detrimental in the following ways:

1. It chokes out the fruitfulness of God's word - Luke 8:14

2. It leads to bondage -- Titus 3:3

3. It can be at the root of divisiveness -- James 4:1

4. It can seriously hinder prayer -- James 4:3

At the same time though, the implementation of our senses can be used for God’s glory. Call it “Christian Hedonism” in contrast to the hedonism of the world. Here are some ways we can use our senses for His glory:

SIGHT – “I (Jesus) tell you, OPEN YOUR EYES and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” John 4:35

HEARING– “My sheep LISTEN to my voice; I (Jesus) know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28

TASTE – “TASTE and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8

TOUCH – for she said to herself, “If I only TOUCH His garment, I will be made well.” Matthew 9:21

SMELL – “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the FRAGRANCE of the knowledge of him.” II Corinthians 2:14

One can only imagine how the Kingdom of God might expand if we, as Christians (or as Christian hedonists one might say), used our senses in the ways depicted in the above verses to the fullest. May we delight in Him and His ways! May that be where we find our pleasure!

As it is written: “You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with ETERNAL PLEASURES at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Does God Love Me? Know It and Believe It.

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love…” I John 4:16

As she hugged her daughter, the mom reminded the child that God loved her. The daughter then said: “I know mom, but sometimes I just need someone with skin on.” When it comes to God’s love, sometimes we may wish that God was here with us with “skin on.” We think if that were the case, then we might really know whether or not He loves us. Let’s face it. Sometimes we could sure use a hug. Even from the LORD!

But we don’t have that privilege. But what we do have is God’s word which reminds us that God is LOVE. It is an essential ingredient of who He is. That is a fact! So, why is that so hard for us to believe at times?

If you hang around anyone who has done any Christian / Biblical counseling, you would find a common and recurring experience. What is that you say? It is simply this – counseling sessions that center around helping someone understand and grasp the truth that God loves them. Until a person grasps and understands that God loves them, that person’s Christian experience often is characterized by unbelief and lack of Christian service. In many ways, they can be stymied over the issue.

There may be a variety of reasons for a counselee’s struggle with the truth of God’s love. For example, marital problems, bouts with persecution and frustration over unanswered prayers all have potential for creating seeds of doubt in our minds about God’s love. But in a day and age where absentee fathers are so prevalent, it is not unusual that a struggle with God’s love often is rooted in doubt over whether or not a person’s earthly father ever really loved them.

On strictly a horizontal level, it seems there is a natural longing in every human’s heart to experience love from their parents – especially from the male parent – the one we refer to as “father.” That is not to diminish the vital importance of a mother’s love, but generally speaking the “biggie” if you would is the love from the father.

But here is the rub. The love relationship, or lack thereof, with the earthly father often has dramatic impact on the relationship one has with God the Father. Too many times, there is a direct relational correlation between the horizontal (relationship with one’s father) and the vertical (relationship with the heavenly Father). If a horizontal relationship is strained or non-existent, the vertical relationship with God often becomes a struggle too.

Taken to the extreme, a counselee might say something like this: “I really love Jesus. But I have a real hard time with the Father.” During counsel sessions, my wife and I have both heard that kind of statement before from a counselee. So what’s the problem? More often than not, the counselee is viewing God the Father thru the lens of experience with their earthly father. If someone were to experience any kind of abuse, rejection or abandonment from their earthly father, that someone then becomes a candidate to struggle with God the Father’s love for them. And it can be a serious detriment.

As counselors, the hope is that a person’s relationship with their earthly father will become all that it can become. However, sometimes that is impossible or seemingly impossible. But that is not the critical element in a counselee knowing that God loves them! Here is the critical truth. The counselee, like every Christian, needs to know that he has ONE Father, and He is in heaven (Matthew 23:9). And that heavenly Father is completely different from their earthly father! He will never leave them or reject them. Why? Because He loves them!

But we must take it a step farther though. Here is what I mean. Most of us as believers have heard:

1. God loved the world as revealed by the giving of His son… John 3:16
2. God demonstrates His love for us thru Christ’s death for us… Romans 5:8
3. God the Father adopts us and accepts us in the beloved… Ephesians 1:5-6 (KJV)
4. God discipline is His loving act toward His children… Hebrews 12:6
5. God’s very essence is love. He is love and will be that way from everlasting to everlasting – Hebrews 13:8; I John 4:16

So, here’s the point. The passage quoted at the beginning of this article from I John 4:16 says: “We have come to KNOW and have BELIEVED the love which God has for us. God is love…” There are two critical elements about God’s love for us to learn. We must KNOW it. And --- we must BELIEVE it. It seems to me that there may be many believers who KNOW these truths, but don’t necessarily BELIEVE these truths. In other words, they may know these truths but their BELIEF reveals that they think God’s love is for everyone but them. And they are stymied with unbelief and lack of Christian service.
Have you ever been there? I have preached these truths and counseled these truths. That God loves us is a central element to the gospel. I know this truth. Still -- I have been in that place before where I found myself doubting His love for me. The enemy can hit any of us. And if the enemy of our soul hits us with doubt of God’s love for us, we must then preach this central element of the gospel to ourselves. I have done that before. Perhaps you have too.

As a man by the name of A. B. Simpson once stated: “The secret of walking closely with Christ, and working successfully for Him, is to fully realize that we are His beloved…. This was the secret of the Apostle John’s spirit. ‘We have come to KNOW and have BELIEVED the love which God has for us.’ The heart that has fully learned this has found the secret of unbounded faith and enthusiastic service.”

The Apostle John made many solid points in his writings. Here are a few important distinctions that make his writings unique:

(1) More than any other gospel writer, John clearly presents Jesus as God – as God in the flesh. John was keenly aware of Jesus’ deity. John’s understanding from his Messiah was that Jesus and God were one and the same. (John 10:30)

(2) Not only in his gospel narrative but also in his epistles, John made much of God’s love. More than any other gospel writer! God’s love was obviously a subject very dear to him.

(3) And finally, on FIVE separate occasions John, describes himself as being “the one whom Jesus loved.” John’s remarks almost sound arrogant and a little condescending toward the other apostles don’t they? It is almost seems that he thought himself to be a little more “special” to Jesus than the others. But were John’s words really arrogant? Remember, John was led by the Holy Spirit to pen his words. His words were not accidental. (See John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7 & 20)

Rather than appearing to be “Mr. Special” among the other apostles, I really believe it was more like this for John. John had “gotten it.” He had clearly understood that God loved him through the Lord Jesus. And John clung to that truth. He took it personally. He embraced it. And he was unashamed to let others know it. I believe that John was almost giddy with delight over the fact that God loved him despite his nature to sin and yes, sometimes be arrogant. John knew that God loved him and he believed that!

Romans 5:8 makes it clear that at the cross God’s love for mankind was on display for all to see. If you doubt God’s love, then look to the cross. Many Christians like to tell people they evangelize that “when Jesus was on the cross you were on His mind.” This is a valid attempt to point the unbeliever to God’s love in the hope that they would see it for themselves in a personal way.

But what about those of us who are already believers? What do we do if we doubt God’s love for us? The same thing. Go to the cross! Yes. Again! And again if necessary! And still again and again if still necessary! Consider this. If we were really on Jesus’ mind at the cross, and the cross is the demonstration of God’s love as Romans 5:8 states, then isn’t it logical that at the very moment that Jesus was thinking of us individually that we became “the one whom Jesus loved?” And wouldn’t that make us just like John?

Whenever I have preached a message I always sought to resist the temptation of sounding overly simplistic. That is -- the idea that all one has to do is 2 or 3 things and all will be good. But what is the truth regarding God’s love for us? In reality, it really is a 1, 2, 3 thing. I know no other way.

1. Know God’s love.

2. Believe God’s love.

3. And if you doubt God’s love, then preach God’s love – to yourself!

And what does “preaching God’s love to yourself” look like? Here’s an example. Take our verse in Romans 5:8. It says: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this; While we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

Here is how we preach Romans 5:8 to ourselves: “God demonstrates His own love for ME in this: While I was still a sinner Christ died for ME.” Just find the verses that speak of God’s love and make it yours by personalizing it. Know it and believe it. It really is that simple. Except for the believing part! That is what must change for us. We must choose to believe the truth – and not what we think or feel or don’t feel.

Back to the little child’s remark to her mother that I stated at the beginning of this article, we do have this truth. God was once here with “skin on.” Jesus was God in the flesh. Though we don’t see Him physically now, we do have God’s word that reveals Him. And God’s Word is our hug from God with “skin on.” How do we know? Because Jesus is the Word that became flesh (John 1:14)! Know His love. Believe His love. And be hugged!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


The fearful Philippian jailer had just experienced an earthquake that unlocked all of the prison doors and shook the shackles off every prisoner in the prison. Would they all try to escape? This came shortly after having heard two Christians praying and singing loud praises to their God late into the evening. Believe it or not, this came after these same two men had been stripped and beaten for the crime of casting out a demon from a local fortune teller!

So what did this jailer do? After coming to the point of suicide, he then fell trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas (the two praying / praising men) and cried out: “SIRS, WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?" (Acts 16:30)

There are several important points to be made here:

1.This jailer was stricken with fear - bordering on terror! That fear had obviously created an inner turmoil giving rise to questions within him.

2.The jailer’s fear brought him to the realization that he needed to be saved! He needed a Savior! The Holy Spirit had begun to work on him, and he had legitimate concern over the state of his soul. (John 16:8)

3.In his fear, the jailer saw that he did not know the way of salvation!

4.The jailer’s fear caused him to cry out in hope that salvation was possible and that someone could tell him the way.

5. But in error, the jailer thought that if there was indeed a hope for salvation, then surely there must be something that he could do to earn his salvation. He instinctively, like most of mankind, looked to his own abilities. Surely that would be sufficient to whoever God was he must have thought. Perhaps that's why he asked "What must I do..."

So how did Paul and Silas respond to the jailer's question of: "What must I do to be saved?"

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. (Acts 16:31-32)

Rather than giving this jailer something to do, they told him to believe --- in the Lord Jesus Christ! That's the essence of grace! Not something to work for! Then Paul and Silas shared the word concerning Christ (the gospel - Philippians 1:5; I Corinthians 15:1-4), because they knew that faith would come by hearing the word about Jesus! (Romans 10:17)

But it was also about who Jesus was. Twice Jesus was referred to as Lord in the Acts 16 passage (verses 31 & 32). Then after the jailer and his family were baptized they were thrilled that they had come to know God (verse 34)! The connection was made between Jesus and God -- that He is God! He is Lord! Eternal life had been granted. As it is written: "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent." (John 17:3)

Apparently, like the Ethiopian eunuch that Philip the evangelist had encountered in Acts 8:35-39, the jailer and his family had believed the gospel wholeheartedly -- and then were baptized due to their faith. Saving faith exhibits complete trust in Jesus' death for their sins and His resurrection. Within that good news is the righteousness they needed to relate to God! Saving faith clings to the promises God made through Christ! It not only is from the heart, but also changes the heart! Faith believes for the unseen based on the promise and the Promisor Who made it. As the writer to Hebrews put it: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1.

So, why does anyone need to be "saved."

1. Without Jesus -- mankind is lost (Luke 19:10), without hope and without God (Ephesians 2:12)

2. Mankind needs to be saved from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Why?

3. Because "in their sins" mankind is spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) and in need of being brought to life (Titus 3:5-7)

4. Because mankind's sins lead to God's wrath & judgment apart from Jesus and His blood (Romans 5:9; Jude 22 & I Thessalonians 5:9)

Paul wrote these words to Timothy:

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." I Timothy 1:15

So, who needs to be saved? Every one of us! Wise king Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 7:20 -- "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins." That covers us all.

So ...... are YOU saved? That is a legitimate question to ponder. And yes, praise the Lord, you can know that you are saved! Hallelujah! (I John 5:13; Romans 8:16)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

“Salvation, Acceptance and Change: What Does the Bible Say?”

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6 KJV)

"What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:1-2)

Here is something amazing! In spite of being stinking filthy sinners, Jesus died for you and me and accepts you and me into the beloved when we trust Him as Lord and Savior. If we are truly a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are ALWAYS accepted in the beloved! That won’t change! Why? It is because we are accepted into the beloved on the basis of Christ’s righteousness --- not any righteousness of our own (Philippians 3:9). It is His righteousness in which we stand as believers (II Corinthians 5:21). Hallelujah!

No doubt - God loves and accepts His beloved children as they are! Praise God! But here’s a question: “Does God’s love and acceptance of His children mean that He leaves them ‘as they are’ when they come to Christ for salvation?”

There may be more but here are 8 facts from scripture that demonstrate that God does not leave us “as we are” when we become believers in the Lord Jesus Christ:

1. True Christians are born again – it’s a requirement!

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again… You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.” (John 3:3 & 7)

“… He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5b)
If we were going to be “left the same” because He loves us and accepts us, then why would we need to be born again? If He was happy with us “as we are”, then why would He make us born again to be the same person? Reasonable questions! To make us the same way thru rebirth just does not make sense.

2. True Christians have been brought from death to life

Before coming to Christ for salvation, we are spiritually dead. After coming to Christ, our spirits come to life – that part of us that can communicate with God!

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” Colossians 2:13

3. The true Christian’s former way of life (the old you) died

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:4

“For we know that our old self was crucified with him…” Romans 6:6

The truth is that when we come to Christ for salvation, we are identified and united with Him in His death. Therefore, since He died, so we also died.

“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)

“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:8)

4. The true Christian’s new life is Jesus

“When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Colossians 3:4

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20

5. The true Christian’s identity has changed – from a slave to sin to a slave to righteousness

“But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” Romans 6:17-18

6. The true Christian has been given a new heart as a promise of the New Covenant

“I will give you a new heart… I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

This represents what the Bible would describe as a spiritual circumcision. It is done by God and not by man. In the process, the law of God is placed upon one’s heart.

“No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”
Romans 2:29

“For it is we (true believers) who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—“ Philippians 3:3

“In Him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,” Colossians 2:11

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
II Corinthians 3:3 (See also Ezekiel 36:26-27)

7. The true Christian has been given the Spirit as another promise of the New Covenant.

Though the Spirit may be grieved or quenched by our sin, He represents a permanent gift to the believer. Through His convictions and promptings, and though He certainly may get ignored, He empowers and implores the believer to live a life of obedience. Consider the following:

“I will… put a new spirit in you… And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27

“I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them (thru the Spirit) to fear Me, so that they will never turn away from Me.”
Jeremiah 32:40

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” John 14:16-17a

“Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” John 16:7b-8

“You (as believers), however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” Romans 8:9

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13-14

8. The true Christian has a teacher whose name is GRACE!

Grace, as the believer’s teacher, has a message. What’s the message? The message is HOLINESS. Consider that God’s word commands us believers, as His obedient children, to be holy, because He is holy (I Peter 1:14-15). As already seen, God has provided the Spirit to empower and implore the believer toward obedience. And it is in the sphere of grace in which the believer stands that the message of holiness is taught. (See Romans 5:1)

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…” Titus 2:11-12

As you can see, grace gives no license to sin – contrary to what some may believe! (See Romans 6:1) In fact, the false teaching of grace granting license to sin is to be stood against strongly!
(See Jude 3-4)

Obviously, from what we have seen in the scriptures, God does not leave us “as we are” when we come to Christ for salvation. A true encounter with Jesus means acceptance. Yes! Absolutely! But we cannot encounter Jesus and remain unchanged!

So what happens when we sin as Christians? Are we then considered to be “unaccepted” by the Lord? This is a problem many have struggled with, because when they sin it just does not “feel” that God is still with them. They no longer “feel” accepted. This is particularly true for those who had bad experience with their earthly fathers growing up.

But what do the scriptures say? The truth is that acceptance does not and will not ever change for the believer. However, fellowship with the Lord is a different story! Consider what sin does:

1. It can grieve the Holy Spirit of God who grants us access to Him

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30 (see Ephesians 4:17 – 5:7 for the context)

2. It can disrupt fellowship with God and even other believers

“And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ… This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (I John 1:3b & 5-7)

“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” (I Corinthians 5:9-11)

3. It can bring about God’s discipline

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” …
but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. (Hebrews 12:4-6 & 10b)

As Paul stated so should our attitude toward sin be: “Shall we go in sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2)
So what if we are living in sin, proclaim to be a believer and do not experience the Lord’s discipline? That is an important question, as the scripture states:

“God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (Hebrews 12:7b-8)

A true son will experience the Lord’s discipline. That is a given. But again I ask: “If we are living in sin, proclaim to be a believer and do not experience the Lord’s discipline, what then?” Here is what the Bible exhorts us to do. Examine yourself to see if you are of the faith (II Corinthians 13:5). Here are some questions for you to ask yourself:

1. After having made a “profession of faith in Christ”, did your life change? Did your life begin to look different than before – at all?

2. Since becoming a “believer”, do you feel differently about sin? Does sin bother you at all or is it of little or no effect? (I John 3:9)

3. Do you have a deep rooted desire to be obedient to the Lord’s commands? (I John 2:3-4)

4. Do you hunger for His word?

5. Do you enjoy fellowship with those of the household of faith? (I John 3:14)

If your predominate answer to the above questions was “no”, then it may not be wise to presume that you are “accepted in the beloved.” As we have seen from the scriptures, acceptance into the beloved by faith in Christ breeds change. God clearly does not leave us “as we are.”

As the scriptures say:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17)

“what counts is a new creation.” (Galatians 6:15b)

Are you a new creation? That is what counts.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Spirit of Jonah and You

There are several people in the Bible where God gives insight into their spirit. Caleb, one of the Israelite spites sent to spy out the promised land in the days of Moses, is one of them. For instance, in Numbers 14:24 we read:

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.

What we learn of Caleb's spirit is that it was different from that of others, he was obedient from the heart and in other passages we clearly see that he was a fierce fighter -- victorious even in his old age!(See Judges 1:20)

Another bit of insight into a person's spirit is shown in the words of Elisha when he was speaking to Elijah just before Elijah was taken up to heaven by a chariot and horses of fire sent from the LORD in II Kings chapter 2. In II Kings 2:9, Elisha makes the following request of Elijah:

"Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit."

That "spirit of Elijah" was not only the spirit of a prophet, but it was also the spirit of righteousness and a spirit of prayer (I Kings 18 & James 5:17-18). In every way, Elijah exhibited these traits. And they made him one of the LORD's greatest prophets, as his ministry was accompanied by mercy and great miracles!(See I Kings 17 and II Kings chapter 1)

It is important to know that John the Baptist performed his ministry in the "spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17 & Matthew 17:13). He had that same spirit!

So the "spirits" of Elijah and Caleb were desirous -- very good things!

Before we proceed much farther, let us consider this verse:

"The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart." Proverbs 17:3

Crucibles and furnaces were used for the refinement of silver and gold. Intense heat was part of the refining process of those precious metals. God, in His sovereignty, also periodically "turns up the heat" to refine His people -- precious children. Often this testing comes in the form of an event or set of circumstances. But sometimes it is different -- perhaps a person or people group that is much different.

Consider. Jonah was a prophet of God. God was going to "test" Jonah's heart - that is work to refine him by giving him an assignment. His assignment? Go preach to the Ninevites -- the dreaded, violent, and pagan enemies of Israel! The Israelites despised the Ninevites! The sin of the Ninevites was great and had to be addressed with God's word. The LORD told Jonah to go to these people!

What came out of Jonah's heart revealed his "spirit." For Jonah to be more effective as a prophet, these things needed to be revealed and then removed. So what came out?

1. Disobedience -- Instead of going to Nineveh in obedience to the LORD's command, Jonah ran the other way. In essence, he told God: "Don't ask me to do this, because I won't do it!"

2. Judgment -- Though Jonah was fully aware of God's mercy, compassion and grace, his preference for Nineveh was judgment! Destroy the evil beasts! Rain down God's fire and brimstone as in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah! He somehow saw them as being beyond God's grace. Judgment blinded him to the true extent of God's grace and mercy.

3. Prejudice -- This was a national sin of the Israelites. They were the Jews - God's chosen people. The Ninevites were Gentiles -- the unclean dogs of the world! Therefore, the Israelites despised the Ninevites. Jonah was no exception -- even though he was a prophet of God!

4. Anger -- Jonah was angry! Though God revealed Himself as merciful, compassionate, forgiving and relenting from anger, Jonah wanted his will for the Ninevites to prevail over God's will! When Jonah finally became faithful and began preaching to the Ninevites, God was just as faithful by empowering Jonah's preaching to turn the wicked Ninevites away from their sins. That should have produced incredible joy! But.... though Jonah had been covered in seaweed, smelled like dead fish and had been to the depths of the ocean, his spirit had changed precious little! He still wanted God to pour out His wrath upon the Ninevites. When God gave grace and pardon, it angered Jonah severely!

Even Jesus' disciples proved to be prone to the "spirit of Jonah." Look at the following verses and see the disciples' view of the Samaritans:

And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”
But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” Luke 9:54-56 (NKJV)

So what kind of spirit have you? The Ninevites of today come in many forms. One of the foremost forms in many people's minds are the Muslims. There are Americans that see all Muslims as terrorists. When the subject of Islam is raised, eyes begin to burn with prejudice and anger. When asked about Assad of Syria, Gadhafi of Libya or Ahmadinajad of Iran many Americans would prefer they be destroyed. Hatred emerges. Love and mercy are far from consideration! After all, we must remember 9/11!

My questions are these:

"What if God commanded you to pray for Muslims -- all Muslims -- everywhere?

What if God asked you to give of yourself financially toward the evangelism of Muslims?

What if God asked you to pray for terrorists and the ungodly and murderous leaders in Muslim nations?

What if God told you to witness to that Muslim man or that burqa clad women at the grocery store or gas station?

What would come out of you? What "spirit" of yours would be revealed? Disobedience? Prejudice? Hatred? Judgment? A desire to turn and walk or run away from them?

Do you feel they are beyond God's grace?

Would anger come out of you if God's will prevailed over yours regarding the Islamic world?

If any or all of these are part of you, you just may have the "spirit of Jonah."

But this does not have to apply solely to your dealings with the Islamic world! It may be your neighbor or THAT co-worker. Maybe it's that teenager in black who's pierced everywhere. You know the one! Black fingernails, snake tattoo on her arm and a cross tattoo on the back of her neck. Red racing stripe splitting her raven colored hair. And the nose ring. What about the punk black teen who "sags" his pants and holds his crotch? Then there is Casey Anthony. She was just voted the most hated person in America! Mentally -- have you placed her beyond the realm of redemption? Search your heart. What spirit have you? If you think it is the "spirit of Jonah", then pray that God would refine you to remove this "spirit"!

Jesus said to His disciples prior to His ascension:

"... and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations." Luke 24:47

"Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." Mark 16:15

That covers it all, doesn't it? What will we do to see that this is done? Will we let the "spirit of Jonah" stop us?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Zealotry and the Cause of Christ

He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter)... Simon the Zealot... Matthew 10:1,2 & 4

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter)... Simon who was called the Zealot... Luke 6:12-15

When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter... Simon the Zealot... They all joined together constantly in prayer. Acts 1:12-14

If you are spending time reading this, here's a guess. I bet this could be the first time you've read something regarding Simon the Zealot. Yes, Simon the Zealot. You may be asking yourself: "Who is this guy anyway?"

The above verses tell us some things about this Simon the Zealot.

(1) He was one of the 12 apostles. One of the pillars of the church -- part of the foundation with Jesus being the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20)

(2) Just like the other 11, he was not chosen haphazardly. Jesus had an all night prayer meeting to determine who would be chosen.

(3) Like all the apostles, Jesus had given this Simon authority -- to heal and to overcome the power of devils.

(4) He was obedient to Jesus. The Lord had instructed the disciples to wait for the promised Holy Spirit to be endued with power for ministry. (Luke 24:49 & Acts 1:4)

(5) He was a man of prayer. In obeying Jesus, he knew that praying was essential for being filled with the Holy Spirit.

But let us talk about how this Simon was referred to in scripture -- the Zealot. What does that mean? Some translations use the capitalized version - Zealot. But it is difficult to know for sure. Is it zealot, or is it Zealot. Let's look at zealot first. It is a word that speaks of one's fervency toward a cause or belief. In the Greek, it carries the idea of being "hot after something". If you are zealous for something, you must really want it bad!

Now, let us look at Zealot. If you were called a Zealot, what did that mean? During Jesus' day, there were 4 groups of Jewish philosophy: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and the Zealots. There were a few outstanding characteristics of note regarding the Zealots. Here are some of them.

First of all, they were probably the most passionate about God - the one true God. They believed that only God should be served, only God should rule over them, only God should receive their taxes and if anyone else were to occupy Israel, they would resist them. Why? Because it was unscriptural for foreigners to occupy the land!

Secondly, they believed in a coming Messiah. But the Messiah they hoped for was a powerful military leader who would lead them to victory over all their enemies.

Thirdly, the Zealots were political revolutionists who were zealous in their beliefs. They were not above using violence or even murder to further their cause.

So what might we learn of value from Simon the Zealot? More importantly, what might we learn about the power of the gospel?

One of the other apostles was Matthew. He was a tax collector. As a tax collector, he was considered to be the scum of the earth. Most Jews hated the tax collectors! Why? Because they were working together with Rome to exact taxes upon the populace. And they would often cheat the Jews for their own benefit. Get the picture. Tax collectors worked with Rome and taxation. Zealots hated Rome -- particularly their occupation of the land and their taxation techniques. The deduction is obvious! The Zealots hated the tax collectors maybe more than any group of Jews! And after much prayer, Jesus put a tax collector and a Zealot together as part of the original twelve!

You may ask: "Why would Jesus do such a thing?" I believe the answer is simple. It would provide a good demonstration of the power of the gospel! Paul makes it clear in Ephesians 2:14-16 that through the cross, people across the world who came to Him for salvation became what Paul referred to as "One New Man". According to this passage, hostilities were put to death by the cross! Hallelujah! Think about that during the next church meeting you attend where a believer is there whom you just don't like very much. Having Simon the Zealot and Matthew together is demonstration of the gospel's power to change hearts and to remove barriers!

Another point to be made is that the gospel brings about what I call a "sanctifying grace." What I mean by that is that often there are characteristics of a person before coming to Christ that are used to their detriment -- increasing their sin. But the gospel takes those traits and then begins using them for God's glory. Consider this: Simon the Zealot was zealous for his cause possibly to the point of being violent before he met Jesus. Once saved, that zealotry was turned into passion for the Savior and His cause -- the kingdom and advancement of the gospel. According to "Foxe's Book of Martyrs", Simon the Zealot went to faraway places -- Mauritania and Britain -- to share God's good news. And it was in Britain that he died a martyrs' death -- by crucifixion! He took it for the cause!

Lastly, and I cannot prove it, I suspect that Simon the Zealot may have been a mighty prayer warrior. He is listed in only 3 passges (quoted at the beginning of this short treatise). The Acts passage shows him as being a member of the large group that gathered for prayer in wait for the Holy Spirit's arrival. As we have learned, though they were misguided in their philosophy, Zealots were characterized by a: passion for God, zealousness for God's rule, willingness to submit to His reign and a fervency in their attitude. These were the Zealots' core values. But sanctified and placed under the blood of Jesus, these same core values provide the recipe for a powerful person of prayer!

But there is another thing about Zealots. They were willing to apply force -- even violence -- against the Romans whom they viewed as tyrannical and an unwanted occupier. Consider that Satan is a tyrant who enslaves. He comes to steal, kill and destroy. And he is an undesirable enemy who does not belong! He is to be resisted. The essence of a prayer warrior is He is passionate for God, ready for God to reign, willing to submit to His authority, fervent in attitude and believes that his praying has the capability of doing violence against Satan and his armies of demons!

Now look at the following three passages and view them in light of what you now know of Simon the Zealot:

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. Matthew 11:12

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Ephesians 6:10-13

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16

The world has had its share of revolutionaries -- Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, etc. On a contemporary basis, many characteristics of the Zealots would describe the terrorists of today's world. But the power of the gospel can bring change, turn them into leaders and surprisingly unite them with strange bedfellows for the cause of Jesus like the Lord did with Matthew and Simon the Zealot. And they can become among the fiercest of prayer warriors!

Let us pray that some contemporary Simon the Zealots would hear and respond to the gospel and be transformed by its power!

Saturday, July 17, 2010


If you were to visit a psychiatric clinic, invariably you'd find some individuals who psychiatrists say hear "voices." They may have been diagnosed as schizophrenic or having multiple personality disorder (MPD) or whatever, but usually a pill is prescribed that supposedly will silence the "voices." A popular movie a few years back called "A Beautiful Mind" was centered around this phenomenon in the life of a brilliant mathematician and Nobel Prize winner. Even a few murderers have claimed to have heard "voices" before performing their life taking deeds.

Voices. If you have ears that function as God designed them, then you will hear voices. We all hear voices in some manner. Generally, those voices belong to human beings -- macaws and parrots being some physical / material exceptions.

But what about spiritual voices? Are there even spiritual voices? Jesus had some interesting encounters with demons. They are spiritual entities, and they spoke. They had a "voice." Mark 1:23-26 is just one example. When the evil spirit came out of the man in this passage, it cried out with a loud "voice" in verse 26.

In Mark 9:14-26 and Luke 8:26-39, Jesus encountered other individuals who were heavily influenced by demons. These spirits had "voices" and exercised great destructive influence over their victims. After their encounter with Jesus, these individuals were set free. The man in the Luke passage was even found to be once again in his "right mind" in verse 35 of Luke 8.

What happened? All of the individuals mentioned in the above passages heard the "voice" of truth. They had found the way and that way was life giving. The way, the truth and the life. That's what Jesus said with His "voice" in John 14:6.

So what "voices" are we as humans prone to hear?

* The Voice of Self -- This voice plays on our fleshly, selfish and sometimes lustful desires. It will profit nothing and promotes selfishness even moving it farther into the realm of pride.

* The Voice of Sight -- This may sound strange since we see with our eyes and speak with our mouths. But what we see "speaks" with its own "voice." And we listen, because we can hear it. This voice often nourishes fear and is meant to diminish one's faith. This "voice" also delights in speaking with the "voice" of self and the "voice" of the world. Some good reasons we are to "walk by faith and not by sight."

* The Voice of Religion -- This "voice" works with the "voice" of the self and the "voice" of the world. Why? Because it promotes doing instead of relating through what has already been done by the Creator for us. It can be found anywhere in the world. It is the voice of religion. Though Christianity is not another of the world's religions as many would like to think, this voice can even be heard in Christendom, for if one is not careful, being a Christian can become mere religious activity.

* The Voice of the Devil -- This "voice" overrules all of the previously mentioned "voices." Why? Because it is the voice behind those other voices. It promotes pride, self indulgence, self righteousness, religious charade, rules & ritual. He is the "god of this world" and the leader of fallen angels / demons. He is the "voice" behind the "voices" schizophrenics hear. And he has no trouble whispering quietly -- even to believers in Christ. What he desires is our worship, our obedience, our enslavement and our destruction.

His is the voice behind every temptation. The voice of every lie. And he thrives in the environment of decision making where he tends to increase his volume. He is very subtle and often cloaks his voice with truth. But there is one voice he cannot usurp... unless we let him. What is it or better whose is it?

* The Voice of Truth This voice is the voice of the Lord. The voice of the Almighty. And it is the voice of truth. You may be asking: "Does this voice exist?" "Can I hear this voice?" Listen to His words:

"My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." John 10:27-28
"Call to Me, and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3
This voice is available to all of us -- particularly while in the valley of decisions.

Maybe you are in the valley of decision right now. Do you hear Him? I believe every person on this earth has heard His voice at least once in their lifetime. The question is: "How will you respond?"

"Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." Hebrews 4:7

Will you soften your heart and receive Him, or will you harden your heart and reject Him. Your eternal destiny may depend on how you respond to His voice when you hear it. He is speaking. And He speaks every day.