Saturday, September 30, 2006

Decision for Destiny...

Some folks are very decisive, and others hesitate, think about it, live in a state of indecisiveness and eventually let someone else make the decision. I am concerned that Christians not live their spiritual lives this way. Joshua challenged the people of Israel, “Choose you this day whom you will serve…” All too often, we have left the choice up to our spiritual mentors, our pastors, our politicians, and those with the loudest voices. It’s time for individuals to make hard and fast choices.
I sense an uneasiness in the body of Christ right now. Perhaps you have felt it too. It feels like we are all on the edge of our seats, waiting for something momentous to happen. Those who take the lead right now, who choose with confidence, will have the advantage. For decades, we have allowed the world around us, to mold and shape our world. Christians stood idly by while prayer was removed from the schools, then abortion was legalized. It would be easy to get on a hobby horse at this time and pick on another ‘issue’ and challenge you to take your stand against government and politicians and educators. But there is an even more serious situation at hand.
The Church in Trouble
Today, the church itself, is sliding backwards, one person at a time, into ineffective whitewashed tombs. This was the state of the religious world when Jesus came. He charged them in Matthew 23:27-28 27. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. “ Today if the pastors don’t entertain us with illustrated sermons, if the worship teams don’t play the most modern beat, if the church buildings are not more comfortable than your sofa at home, then the ‘saints’ mosey on to some place that will make them feel comfortable. The church, the living body of Christ, is dying. It is beautiful on the outside, but inside there is death and corruption. Meanwhile, the lost world is spiraling down into an eternal hell with little or no concern on the part of the ‘Christian’. Grant it, there are a few beacons of light out there who are beaming brightly, but there are more and more who are caving in to the demands of lazy ‘saints’. They are more concerned with what they want than with what God wants. Humanism is the new god of the church. Their cry is: make me feel comfortable, make me feel happy….or we’ll go somewhere else. The church has become so self-centered it has forgotten it’s purpose for being.
What has happened to the church that repented in revivals of past days? What has happened to the church that would spend hours on its knees seeking God? Where are those ‘saints’ who are willing to sacrifice their own comforts for the sake of the lost world around them? Where are the revival services that lasted into the wee hours of the night, and extended into protracted meetings of three to 5 weeks or more? Where are the evangelists now? Sad to say, many evangelists have been forced from the itinerant lifestyle due to pastors and churches and boards that no longer have ‘time’ for Sunday night services, and don’t think their people will support protracted meetings.
Milk and Honey?
Too many have been feeding on milk diets. Milk is good. It is a wonderful food. It is an almost perfect food. But I was shocked to learn that when milk is ‘treated’ with homogenization and pasteurization, it destroys much of the goodness found in fresh raw milk. It kills natural enzymes and vitamins. For milk to do it’s best for us, it first of all must be fresh. Fresh raw milk was made by God to be consumed within the first 24 hours. Yet today, in our modern world, we keep milk , that has been treated to preserve it, for up to a week or more. We do the same spiritually. We soften the message to make it ‘seeker friendly’ so as not to offend the sinner. We don’t take the time to seek fresh ‘milk’ from the Word of God and so we push our ‘stale’ message for all to feed upon. The milk turns sour, and we wonder why the world rejects it.
The children of Israel were promised a land of “milk and honey”. This means that God was promising them a land where all their basic needs would be met with abundance. But He never meant they were to continually live on a diet of milk and honey. Honey is a great natural food. It is a sweetener that tastes wonderful. But a diet of pure honey would be awful. We need balance. Believers today have the best resources that the body of Christ has ever had! We have the written Word of God. We have wonderful study tools, concordances, handbooks, dictionaries, radio, TV and the computer. Yet how many pastors find themselves preaching a message borrowed from some other preacher. How many ’saints’ rely on the pastor to read the Word to them on Sunday. It’s the only time they open their Bibles. It is spoiled milk. The Holy Spirit wants to pour into each pastor’s heart fresh messages, not milk and honey messages but oil and wine messages. He wants to break fresh oil into each heart that will take the time to read the Word of God and pray.
Pour in the Oil and Wine
Oil and wine messages are those inspired by the Holy Spirit, tailor made just for your congregation, fresh from the wine vats and oil presses of heaven. The wonderful thing about wine is, that as the wine ages, it gets better and better while as milk ages, it become more and more spoiled. Wine is produced by crushing and breaking. Each cluster of fruit is placed in a vat for one purpose, that of crushing and breaking, to bring forth that which will result in healing, and strengthening. The oil is also produced by first crushing and then pressing. In the New Testament, oil was used for lamps, as a medicinal agent, for healing, for anointing at feasts, on festive occasions such as the consecration of kings and as an accompaniment of miraculous power or of the prayer of faith. Many folks are not aware that the name “Gethsemane” is derived from the Hebrew word, gat shmanim, meaning “oil press”. It was at Gethsemane that Jesus was in agony as he was ‘pressed’ under the weight of what He was about to endure for us all. His body became the ‘oil and wine’ and He sweat as it were, great drops of blood. Olives are pressed under great stone weights to bring out the oil. The first crushing prepares the fruit to bring forth the golden extra virgin oil, the finest in taste and flavor and purity. It is ‘fresh oil’. Second pressing brings out even more oil.
Our Choice...
God’s people need to place themselves at His feet once again and let his feet crush us and break us, and press us into the fresh oil and new wine to meet the needs of this complacent generation. They are weary of fakery, and want a genuine experience with God. They want to know He is really real. They need to see a demonstration of His power. The heavenly Vinedresser wants our altars restored to places of prayer and worship. He wants our sanctuaries to be a place where we hallow His presence. He wants our homes to be places of spiritual refuge for troubled families needing to meet the Master. We need to learn the ministry of pouring in the wine and the oil…just like the good Samaritan in Luke 10:34. He ministered to the wounded victim of brutal thieves who had beat him, robbed him and left him for dead beside the road. Today the enemy of our souls is doing the same thing. He is a brutal thief, who comes to kill, steal and destroy the lives of mankind. His purpose is to wreak havoc in the home and the church, creating division and disharmony. He steals their finances, their joy, their hope for the future, their health….and leaves them beaten and as good as dead.
But, God…!
God has an answer… a hope! It is Jesus, flowing through vessels of clay…vessels filled with the wine and oil of the Holy Spirit…. Ready to be poured out on a generation that so desperately needs Him. Let’s be the Samaritan that reaches out and touches the unlovely around us, sharing the healing balm of oil and wine.
Wine and oil are both symbols of the Holy Spirit. Wine speaks of joy and healing and refreshing and strengthening. Oil is soothing as an ointment. It speeds healing, and it seals out the corruption, preventing infection. Wine and oil were also traditionally both poured over the sacrifice as it was offered on the altar. As we yield our bodies, our lives as living sacrifices on the altar of God, He, the high Priest, will pour out the wine and the oil over our lives, and then we will be ready to be set aflame for Him.
I feel an urgency in my spirit to press on in the Spirit, a warrior for God. We may face trying days ahead. As your trials come, do not loose heart. Keep your focus. Be faithful. As warriors, we must be familiar with the weapons of our warfare, and ready for battle. We have the power of the blood, the power of His name and the word of our testimony. He will use these to overcome the enemy. We must be familiar with the testing our Commander will be putting us through to prepare us for battle and the costly anointing. This army will be a unique one, tried in the fires, walking in humility, listening intently to the Commanders every word. He demands of us holiness and humility. Absolute obedience is a must! There will be times when you are tempted to question the tests and the trials that come your way, but He is preparing you, strengthening you for that army. To develop muscle, there must be a healthy diet, strenuous exercise, and going a little further each time. It will result in pain. Some will give up and turn away. But we must press on. The enemy will always try to resist the work of God, but remember, resistance builds muscle and makes us stronger.
There will be times when you will be tempted to stand against the enemy in your own strength. You may tell him… ‘I’m a pastor, a minister, a prophet,a deacon or an evangelist. Leave me alone!” Your titles won’t impress the devil. There is one name He respects and fears, and that is the all powerful name of Jesus Christ. If you want to throw around names, tell satan, “ I am a born again, blood washed child of Jesus Christ!” He will be trembling at that name.
We have a vital choice to make… milk and honey or oil and wine! Our choice may determine the destiny of this generation. We have had enough compromise with the world. We have had enough milk. We must ready ourselves to move on to better things, to grow stronger, and take on the challenging tasks God has ahead for each of us. Choose wisely… and let the wine and oil flow over you today! J. Johnson

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I Can't Take It Anymore!!!

Did you ever feel like you just can’t take it anymore? Sometimes it seems like the world is crashing in all around us. Everything seems to crumble in our hands: finances, family, relationships, health, and our future...and we wonder what’s next!
These are turning points in our lives. You are not alone! If you are at the end of your rope today, hang on, for there is Hope...and God has a plan!
Can you imagine the roller-coaster of emotions the families of the Virginia mine disaster experienced? First they learned of the disaster, that their husbands and fathers were trapped in the mine. Then after hours of despair, suddenly someone tossed a rope of hope saying that all but one had survived! The church bells rang! Families praised God...and then the bottom dropped out as they learned of the mistake… Only one had survived and all the rest were dead. Swings of emotions can be devastating. Pregnant moms who are rejoicing in the new life within them often experience this same swing when they suddenly learn of the death of the pre-born child. Sometimes it is the breadwinner of the family, who has spent a lifetime working hard at a job he thought was secure, only to learn that his job has been shipped overseas...the pension gone, with retirement just around the corner. Sometimes it is the stay at home mom, who faces dealing with toddlers, diapers, toys, sickness, meals, laundry, financial stress, only to learn her husband has been unfaithful. Or perhaps it is the pastor, overloaded with the pressures of ministry, spiritually drained and burned out, straining at being spiritually fresh while continually giving and giving to others.
It is not difficult in today’s world to find yourself stressed and wanting a way to escape the pressures that surround on every side. Whether you live in the city or in the country, pressures exist. Families have troubles, people get sick, jobs and finances stress believers and unbelievers to the maximum. Yet through the years, God has provided a steady source of hope and help to those who really want to “Get away from it all.” And the advice we are given goes contrary to what we would normally tend to do. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2,3 Joy? Does it really mean JOY? How can anyone be happy when they face trials and testing? God uses the ordinary experiences of life to make us more like Himself. We tend to look at the moment...right now. God looks at the whole picture… past, present and future. He sees what we are, and what He wants us to become. Then He allows things into our lives to bring us to the end of trusting in ourselves. We are forced by the circumstances to either trust God, or not trust Him—and end up doing it all by ourselves. We soon learn that our way never works out. So we by trial and error, learn to trust God. When we do, we learn to look at the trouble that comes two ways. We ask ourselves: “What Does God Want Me to Learn From This?” Is this difficulty God’s opportunity?
What Does God Want Me to Learn?
Some of are slow learners. Others learn by doing. Some learn by watching, and still others learn by listening. There are many ways to learn. Life is one long lesson in learning. Job, the Old Testament patriarch learned that God allowed difficulties into his life to show him and his friends, that God is God, regardless of the circumstance. He is a God who knows us inside and out, our deepest thoughts, and our unspoken longings. He also knows our weaknesses. He knows where we need to be made strong. Sometimes He uses us to teach others valuable lessons. He wants us to be like Job in many ways who said…”Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;” Job13:13
Job persevered! “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:4 That is Job’s story… mature, complete and without lack. God blessed him twice as much after the test. Job was not happy while he went though it all, but he learned that God had a bigger picture than Job did. He saw the end from the beginning. By faith, God is asking us to be happy, joyful, knowing that as we trust God, He will bring good from whatever difficulty we go through. Real joy is like a river of life that flows from the throne of God, not polluted with bitterness or resentment or anger, but trusting that God is working even in impossible circumstances for our eternal good.
God’s Opportunity?
Our distress is God’s opportunity. I used to wonder why God allowed my mother to die when I was just 7 years old. But then as life progressed, I saw the hand of God in my life whenever I trusted Him and needed Him. He caused me to be totally dependent on God instead of on my parents. He kept me focused on eternal values. He brought people into my life to influence me that never would have been there otherwise. Sometimes we look at the problems we are facing and that is all we see. God looks at the whole picture. He has an eternal time clock. One day, as we stand before God, we will be amazed at how God had it all under control. We just could not see it. It’s like we are looking at the backside of a needle point picture. We see crisscrossed threads of all colors, dangling strings, and a mess. But God sees the front side….a beautiful picture He is creating of our lives, one stitch at a time. He creates it with careful purpose, knowing that each stitch is painful, but fruitful. Trusting God with the end result is His ultimate goal. There is a reward waiting those who are willing to persevere to the end. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12 When Jesus gave the beatitudes to the disciples and followers, I am sure some must have turned away. He told them you are to be happy (blessed) if you are humble, sad, meek, hungry, merciful, holy and persecuted. It was a new way of thinking. We think happiness comes from having more things, more leisure time, more power or more laughter. But, the Bible teaches us differently. Psalm 126:5-6 tells us "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." It is part of the law of sowing and reaping. God designed it for man. Tears are sometimes necessary. They brings us from a place of frivolous carelessness down to a place of serious reality. Sometimes we do not face the real issues in life until we are sad. Then we can let God deal with the problem and watch Him work a miracle! It brings us to the place where we draw closer to Him than ever before. Then He turns things around for our good. James 4:8-10 says, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye doubleminded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." It is a process. It does not happen overnight. It begins when we choose to come closer to God—then He responds to our choice—drawing closer to us. The closer we get to Him, the more we realize how unholy we are, needing repentance. When God completes the work in our hearts and lives, joy comes. It is not a superficial joy, but one that lasts, for it is a work done deeply in our hearts. That is where we can be happy even though we are going through poverty, pain, persecution, humility or any other test. I sometimes wonder what it will be like to view life on earth from Heaven’s perspective. I am certain we will rejoice over choices made with eternity in view. But perhaps we will have some regrets as we see what we could have had when we made carnal choices with our momentary pain in view. The Message Bible puts it this way “So, my very dear friends, don't get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.” James 1:16-18 So keep your focus! Don’t give up! Look up! He’s there…! He cares! Perhaps you are feeling blessed right now with all your needs met. Then thank Him! Instead, pray for others who are going through tests and trials of their own. But, if you are in the middle of the test, remember that His nail scarred hand rests on your shoulder as you go through it. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He knows your name. He knows your pain. Put your hand in His nail scarred hand! J. Johnson