Monday, October 29, 2012

Exiles or Faithful Followers

Our attitudes and perceptions have a measurable impact on our accomplishments. If we see ourselves as abandoned, lost or forgotten we are more likely to lose heart, suffer depression, and give up. On the other hand, if we see ourselves as called, chosen, equipped and faithful, we are more likely to be motivated, empowered and courageous. So, I ask the question: Are we exiles or faithful followers of Christ?

Psalm 146:1-10 “Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.” (NIV)

God reigns forever and He is our help. He is our support and because of His faithfulness we have reason to praise Him. We cannot put our trust in human efforts. No matter how great and powerful or wise and understand human institutions appear they are powerless to save us. Their influence dies with them. The benefits and blessings recorded here for those who put their trust in God should encourage us to see ourselves as “Faithful Followers of Christ”.

God has not and will not abandon us. He lifts us up when we are bowed down. He remains faithful forever. The Lord loves the righteous. So, as long as we are committed to His Word, living according to His standards of right and wrong dedicated to His service, He supplies our needs. But, He frustrates the ways of the wicked.

You are not lost. You are not forgotten. You have not been driven into exile. The world has marginalized the “Voice of the Christian Message” not because it cannot understand the message, but because it does not want to adhere to the standard of righteousness it sets. Do you see yourself as a powerless exile or are you a faithful follower of Christ?

Persecution is not a new reality for Christians. From the very beginning those who have put their faith in Christ have been a target; yet, God upholds the cause of the oppressed.

Acts 26:14-18 “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’” (NASB)

This passage from Acts reminds us that even the Apostle Paul was once a persecutor of the church. Even in the midst of his conversion he knew who he was persecuting. Paul called Him Lord.

God chooses His servants. He plans our lives. He directs our paths. He trains and equips us. He gives us our assignments. As long as we remain on the path God has chosen for us we are never exiles. God knows who you are. He knows where you are and He understands completely what you are going through. Begin to see yourself as a “Faithful Follower of Christ”. Give up the idea that you are somehow an “Exile”. If you have not abandoned God, He surely has not abandoned you. Scripture tells us, “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.”

Romans 5:1-9 “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (KJV)

God never promised we would live a problem free life. He did promise we would be saved from His wrath. He also promised that He would not abandon us. Seeking His Kingdom and His Righteousness will meet ALL our needs in this life.

Hebrews 8:10-12 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will imprint My laws upon their minds, even upon their innermost thoughts and understanding, and engrave them upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And it will nevermore be necessary for each one to teach his neighbor and his fellow citizen or each one his brother, saying, Know (perceive, have knowledge of, and get acquainted by experience with) the Lord, for all will know Me, from the smallest to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful and gracious toward their sins and I will remember their deeds of unrighteousness no more.” (AMP)

Our quality of life and our accomplishments for the Kingdom of God are both a matter of choice. We can accept and live under the covenant God has established or we can walk away from His offer and doom ourselves to a lifetime of exile. The wise choice is to be a faithful follower, but God gives us the choice.

Jeremiah 29:4-14 “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: ‘Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.’ This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Do not let your prophets and fortune-tellers who are with you in the land of Babylon trick you. Do not listen to their dreams, because they are telling you lies in my name. I have not sent them,’ says the Lord. This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.’” (NLT)

Our stubbornness often forces us to live in exile when all God desires of us is our faithfulness. If you truly are living in that place of exile, how long are you willing to stay there? Have you built such a comfortable house and cultivated such a beautiful garden that you are willing to raise your children and grandchildren in a land of sorrow?

Yes, according to these verses, even living in exile we can have a positive effect on our communities, but however good our life in exile appears to be it does not measure up to the plan God has for us. Wholeheartedly seek God from the place of exile you find yourself in and God will not only hear your prayer – He will quickly bring you out of exile and restore you as a faithful follower of Christ.

The way you see yourself determines what you will be able to accomplish. How many years will you spend in the vanity and pride of exile before turning to Calvary and becoming a faithful follower of Christ?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dying for Revival

The 2012 U.S. Presidential Election is quickly approaching. This is NOT a political message. It is a call for Christians to define and live their faith. Most of the churches I’ve attended in the U.S. display two flags on the platform behind the pulpit. There is the American flag and the Christian flag. I have no doubt that everyone listening to this message knows the pledge of allegiance to the American flag, but I’m not as convinced we all know or agree on the pledge to the Christian flag.

According to what I found on the internet when I Googled “pledge to the Christian flag” there are three versions of the Christian pledge of allegiance. The pledge I learned as a child:

"I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands. One brotherhood, uniting all true Christians, in service and love."

The new more all inclusive version:

"I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands. One brotherhood, uniting all mankind, in service and love."

The version apparently for Home Schools:

"I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe."

If Christians cannot agree as to what and whom we are pledging our allegiance, how can we ever be an effective witness to the world? God has called True Christians to be living sacrifices, examples of His Love, His Grace, and His Compassion. Christ came to redeem All Mankind, but the brotherhood of believers is reserved for those who have accepted the gift of salvation and allowed the Holy Spirit to transform their lives. It is a choice we make in response to His sacrifice.

John 12:24 “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels — a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (NLT)

In this verse form the book of John, Jesus was speaking to His disciples about Himself, and yet it holds a truth for us today. Christians in Scripture have been described as wheat. Christian pretenders have been described as tares or weeds resembling wheat. Our effectiveness within “the Body of Christ” is dependent upon our willingness to die. Just as Christ’s death brought LIFE to all who believe our death reproduces His LIFE and increases our effectiveness in a plentiful harvest of new lives.

The title of this message is “Dying for Revival”. Let me assure you, we will not be serving any “Red Kool-aid” following the service. Anyone sitting close enough to my wife please lean over and tell her what that is referring to. If you are sitting by anyone too young to remember the event, please explain it to them.

The church needs a revival, and I for one am dying to experience a fresh move of God’s Spirit among us. Revival comes at a cost. In order for something to be revived it first has to die. I ask you tonight, “Where is your life?” Are you as I am “Dying for Revival”? According to Scripture, the wrath of God is coming as the result of sinful nature. The only way of escape is putting to death those desires in us. Each of us has been affected by sin. I cannot judge your sin and you cannot judge mine, neither can we kill those desires in each other. The hunger for revival and the actions required to put to death our sinful nature are exclusively individual. If we make the right choice we will experience the glory of God in our lives. If we make the wrong choice we will experience His wrath.

Colossians 3:4-6 “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (NIV)

America needs a Christian Awakening. The church needs a revival and the world needs to hear the message of salvation. The answer to ALL of those desperate needs begin with our individual willingness to “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.”
Romans 8:12-14 “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (KJV)

Too often we are holding on to a lifestyle, keeping pace with a society that we owe no allegiance. The Bible clearly states: Following that path leads to destruction.  Being led by the Spirit of God brings us into relationship with Him as His children.

Wisdom, knowledge and understanding are gifts from God. They are granted to those willing to search for them. Lifting our voices to God, crying out for His plan and purposes, sitting aside our goals and ambitions, these are the steps that lead us down the road to revival. God’s wisdom is reserved for the upright – Not for those living by their own standard. God’s protection is reserved for those walking in integrity – Not for those twisting every situation to their advantage. God is guarding the paths of justice, and He preserves the way of His godly ones.

Proverbs 2:1-8 “My son, if you will receive my words And treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the Lord And discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones.” (NASB)

Do we qualify by His standard? Are we dying for revival?

Matthew 16:24-26 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to be My disciple, let him deny himself [disregard, lose sight of, and forget himself and his own interests] and take up his cross and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also]. For whoever is bent on saving his [temporal] life [his comfort and security here] shall lose it [eternal life]; and whoever loses his life [his comfort and security here] for My sake shall find it [life everlasting]. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life [his blessed life in the kingdom of God]? Or what would a man give as an exchange for his [blessed] life [in the kingdom of God]?” (AMP)

Just the other day, Michele and I were talking about how comfortable our life was when we were both working full time. She was teaching at a local High School and I was teaching at a Middle School. We did not have to worry about finances. We knew what was coming in and the only rule was: Don’t spend it all!

Since I left my job in search of ministry opportunities money has been tighter, but the blessings God provides far outweigh the sacrifice. I’ll admit at times I am tempted to think I’ve given up more than I’ve gained, but these words draw me back. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life [his blessed life in the kingdom of God]?”

Are we dying for revival or are we laboring in vain? I’m closing with this passage from Psalm 127. You see, when I was in college I literally applied these verses to my life. I was not a very good student. I hated to read. When I told this to Michele she could not believe I actually did this but every word is true.

I would read my text books until I could not stand it any longer. I’d lay them on my chest and ask God to give me what I didn’t have. “For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”  Then I would get up in the morning go to class and never get below a B+ on an exam.

Psalm 127:1-2 “Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (NASB)

What I am saying is this, the more literally you take the promises in God’s Word, the more powerfully He will respond to your need. I cannot tell you how many of my best sermons have been the result of sleep and I’ll leave it to you to decide if this is one of them.

Are you dying for revival?

Do you believe God’s promises?