CUTTING OFF OUR OWN HEAD

There can be no doubt or dispute that the demise of our brethren under the sword of persecution is brutal and grievous.    Only the Holy Spirit’s power can enable one to endure, with courage, such unimaginable demise.  While some may have lived as nominal Christians, the edge of the sword radically defines their faith and eternal destiny.  Jihadists publicize these devilish deeds to evoke fear and dread, yet testimonies reveal that a living faith is coming forth through the fire.

We however in the west, ‘west of Jerusalem’ that is, are thus far not facing execution but nonetheless have defining moments to declare Christ and be His testimony to the world.   One might imagine that, within this window of relative freedom, Christians might rise up and stand against the consuming tidal wave that looms over our lands.

The tidal wave is not sin, we are already living in that endless flow.  The coming tsunami is the looming judgment of God.  Compromise and complacency expose our unbelief in this prophetic truth, a gross negligence since our call is to proclaim Christ’s return as “Righteous Judge”.

How have we, as the church, become so irrelevant and powerless?  The professed Body of Christ no longer stands apart from the world with open arms to the broken and confused.  No longer pillars of truth, upholding God’s unchangeable standards, we want to ‘belong to’, ‘fit in’, and ‘prosper’ – we certainly don’t want to ‘die’.

To fit anywhere within the world’s lofty standards requires disavowing the righteousness of God – the very standard by which we will be judged.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  (Prov 14:34)

Few voices are left to even speak of God’s righteousness, when nearly every page of Holy Scripture declares God as righteous – upholding, defending and proclaiming righteousness.   “The Lord loves righteousness…” and “…will judge the world with righteousness” are inescapable truths throughout scripture.

As the professed Body of Christ increasingly merges into worldly standards, we are detaching from our “Commanding Officer”, Jesus the “Righteous One”.  To our own spiritual demise, we are cutting off our own Head, the only true source of power, discernment, and promise.   Accolades and popularity, even prosperity replaces intimacy with the Lord.  Do we realize our own ideas and efforts are worthless?   “Apart from Me you can do nothing” declared the Lord, nothing of eternal value.

The defining line between the world’s lofty standards and the Body of Christ is the righteousness of God.  It is the measure by which the Holy Spirit convicts man of sin and upholds the Cross for forgiveness and eternal life.  Yet, it is a central stumbling block for the professed believer in this world – a truth against which many will align with the world.   The spirit of this world holds great contention against the righteousness of God – changing God’s standards, redefining sin and the ‘wages of sin’.  Ultimately diminished is the expression of God’s great love, the high price He paid to redeem us from sin and cover us with this righteousness.

What is the ‘Great Apostasy’ if not the cutting off of Christ, our Head?  Are we not now in this great apostasy, “refusing to love the truth and so be saved”?  Have we not willingly received a ‘powerful delusion’, the same lie birthed through Satan in the beginning:  you can sin and get away with it – in fact, it is not sin at all!

Coming out from under Christ’s authority and preeminence has great and lamentable consequences.  Apart from Him, His protection and promises to deliver and defend sadly fade, as will His presence in our midst, through the storms and wilderness, and His living word spoken like salve to our heart.   Yet, as we near the precipice of perilous times, He continues to call His sheep back to follow.

lighthouse_wave

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and they are safe.” (Prov 18:10)

Self sufficiency brought fleshly confidence to the western church, dethroning the authority and preeminence of Christ.  Contorting, even dismissing, the Word of God to redefine sin makes the Lord more palatable and acceptable to the world… ‘palatable to the world’ but nauseating to the Lord.  Like the Laodicean church, we are increasingly becoming a headless church, standing in the danger of misrepresenting God.

In His mercy, the Lord will awaken His church, revive His Body, with divine calling, powerful shaking, painful discipline – even orchestrated crisis.  He will have a testimony on this earth through true believers.  Our desperate cry for His presence and promises will define our faith and strengthen allegiance to His Word and His authority over our lives.

bold-as-a-lion-armando-heredia

The Lord Himself will empower us to stand and represent Him.  Endowed with His wisdom and discernment, we will have a word for this generation and add to His Kingdom.  Walking in His shadow, our short lives in this world will count for eternity.

“Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous;

The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!  The Lord’s right hand is lifted high!”

(Ps 118:15)

REMEMBER APRIL 24th AND FIGHT THROUGH THE NIGHT –

a call to all night prayer on behalf of brethren and others suffering today under the same evil sword.

One hundred years ago the Ottoman Empire launched a systematic plan of genocide against the Armenians and other minorities within Turkey.  At least 1.5 million Armenians perished in horrifying ways, hundreds of thousands dying in death marches from Turkey to Syria.  Painful open wounds remain, generation after generation, as Turkey continues to deny these atrocities, employing political influence and futile media campaigns.

The demonic spirit of murder lives on however, as persecution continues to sweep across the Middle East – perhaps until every Believer in Christ and Islamic non-conformist is vanquished or ritualistically tortured and killed.

Every true believer feels anguish and anger.   The call of God is unmistakable and undeniable.  We must access the power of heaven through prayer – fighting demonic attacks with supernatural resources. 

Ordinary prayer rarely breaks through such darkness.   The enemy is disciplined and trained – inspired by and devoted as minions of hell.  To unburden my heart for the brethren, I sought an all night prayer meeting to join with believers crying out to the Lord.  I could not find one (which doesn’t mean there weren’t any).   During my own prayer, I sensed the Lord’s leading – stop looking for one and be one yourself.   

I INVITE ALL TO JOIN IN THIS NIGHT, FRIDAY, APRIL 24, AT ANY GIVEN POINT.  LET US BE INSPIRED BY HEAVEN, DEVOTED TO OUR LORD – THE DELIVERER – UPHOLD THE BRETHREN AND CAUSE DAMAGE TO THE KINGDOM OF DARKNESS. 

Keep the Word of God open and review the battles of the Old Testament, the tumultuous cries and triumphs of the Psalms and the victories in Christ through the New Testament as encouragement.  The Book of Acts demonstrates the presence of God through persecution and suffering and His miraculous interventions through prayer.

I am prayerfully offering the following schedule to bring order to the night and alignment with the burden of Christ for His followers:

9pm to 10pm, (EST):  Prepare to meet with the Lord.    Find a “place of prayer” where we may quiet our spirit and separate from distraction.  Into the battle bring the Word of God and if possible, a tablet, computer or materials available as resources.  Sing the Psalms, access and sing worship to the Lord.   Pray…

  • for ourselves, the unpersecuted, whose battle is often complacency and unbelief.
  • for a heart cleansing, make confession for anything within us that may be a stumbling block
  • for the Lord’s leadership, that His burden will prevail in our heart, that we may join in His battle and share in His victory
  • that the presence of the Lord will be with us and His Word a living inspiration for us as we pray

10pm to 11:30:  Prayer for suffering Christians and others in fiery areas such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt and parts of Africa.  In lieu of visual aids, search ‘persecuted syrian christians’ and others to put faces on our brothers and sisters.  Review Christian news posts to pray for prevailing attacks and crisis.   Pray…

  • even in the very moment for their physical protection.
  • for their provisions, that our Heavenly Father provide even more than they need to share with others. Pray that we may be the means thru which provision is made.
  • for a supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them…that they may be clothed with courage from God and a peace that surpasses all understanding.
  • for supernatural strength to endure torture, that their faith may stand strong as a living testimony of our crucified Christ who overcame death and reigns for all eternity
  • for personal visitation from the Lord, that they may supernaturally know His presence and understand “the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings”.
  • for those in refugee camps. While in a ‘place of refuge’, many suffer traumatic loss of health, home and family.  Depression, PTSD, ongoing grief and deprivation may plague these survivors
  • for the families of those who have been abducted and/or martyred, that their faith may be strengthened and the presence of God overshadows their hardship and sorrow
  • for the Christian leadership amongst the brethren, for the Holy Spirit to greatly indwell them and uphold them supernaturally…”that they may shine like stars” in the midst of depravity

Continue praying for those areas that may have fallen off the daily radar.   Ask the Lord imprint our hearts with the regions within Africa and Asia.  Engine search suffering believers in these areas and advocate for them.

For many under the sword, tonight may be their last night.

11:30pm to 12:30am:   Pray for the young girls and women who have been abducted and sexually assaulted.  Many, such as the victims of Boko Haram, have been forgotten by the world.  Torn from family, Islamic terrorists make daily life a living nightmare of gang rapes, abuse, and forced marriage.   Bought and sold as spoils of war, these young girls often attempt suicide to escape immeasurable anguish.  Pray….

  • for supernatural means of escape, that Almighty God will send warring angels to their side.
  • for deep spiritual and physical healing; that whatever Scripture they know may well up in them for faith to endure
  • for an inner spiritual life, through the Holy Spirit, to rise up and strengthen them with endurance from heaven, that their eyes may focus on eternity
  • for their rapists and abusers, that God Himself would render them impotent, and utterly disable them and even, in defense of these girls, send an Angel of Death upon these hellish brutes 

1:30-2:30amPray for these enemies, our enemies, God’s enemies, including ISIS, Boko Haram, and all affiliates.  Pray…

  • that they are overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, with great heaviness and oppression.
  • for an inescapable and overwhelming shame to come upon them
  • for deep grief to envelope them, that the Holy Spirit will hold up His mirror and reveal God’s view of all their dastardly deeds
  • for God to take away their slumber, that they may be mentally and spiritually hounded, tormented, put to confusion
  • that their eyes may be opened and they fall to their knees with godly sorrow and repentance AND
  • that they may be saved, rising up as beacons and heralds for God, a powerful voice over all against the work of Satan

2:30-3:30amPray for the minorities who do not know the Lord.  Many, including the Kurds, Yazidis, and Muslim sects, suffer the loss of lives, homes, entire villages.  Pray….

  • for their strength and provision. Pray that, as they may interface with true believers and see their living faith, they may be drawn to the truth of Christ.  Pray for them to know the Lord, to receive forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life through Christ.
  • that what the devil orchestrates for death and evil would be turned into glory for God. Pray that the power of God come forth through suffering and confound the enemy, leading more to everlasting life through the Gospel

3:30-4:30am:    Governments, agencies, missionaries, aid workers…..pray for ourselves, all whom the Lord might use to intervene into this suffering.   Pray…

  • for media exposure and global outcry to stir the hearts of the complacent
  • for the leadership of these groups and workers, that they may hear from God
  • for the Body of Christ to arise and awaken, shake off worldly distractions and press on in the Lord
  • for those already serving, that they may be encouraged and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
  • for supernatural doors to open, for God to be glorified as He moves through those who are surrendered to Him and His service.
  • that we become those vessels, useful to God, to serve Him and His Body and bring honor to His name in this world.

4:30-5:00am:     Praise and worship for what the Lord is doing, praising Him before He ‘parts the sea’, before we learn of – if we ever know – His answer to our cries. He is  worthy and faithful.

I pray that, when we meet the Lord and our Brethren, we will rejoice as one body together forever.

 

DOES GOD CRUSH OUR ENEMIES?

God crushes our enemies but we are called to love them.  How can this be?

Loving our enemies is a deep spiritual exercise in our steadfast belief in God’s sovereignty.   When God Unleashes the Giants describes the omnipotence of God as He configures the tribulations, suffering, and even the enemies that will oppress and test us.  When we walk in the shadow of our Master, there are no arbitrary storms neither are there unforeseen enemies.  The Lord orders our steps and measures each trial, limiting the power of any foe over our lives.  Our enemies, even those that would cause martyrdom, are at the Lord’s disposal.   Luke chapter 6 and Matthew 5 expound the familiar yet difficult call of Christ to “love your enemies”.  Yet, within the whole counsel of God there are two separate intertwining powerful truths:

We are commanded to love our enemies and God promises to avenge them:

 “ Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written,   “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head.”  (Romans 12:19,20)

Firstly, we must resolve never to take what belongs to God, repenting from even vengeful thoughts and plans of revenge. Such are hatched from the flesh and demonically inspired.  Entertaining retribution is a normal and natural great temptation that will separate us from the purposes of God in that very situation.

Secondly, the mandate to love our enemies is impossible to fulfill – necessarily drawing us to the bosom of our Lord.  This is not a fleshly exercise of fluffy love, it is representing the mercy of God to those who have offended us and Him.  God’s love is never arbitrary or random, it is full of wisdom and light.  His guidance must overshadow all our overtures toward the offender so His purposes, not Satan’s, will come to fruition, “…heaping burning coals upon his head.”

Within the fiery trial, in the heat of the battle, our confidence must totally lie in the faithfulness of God’s revealed power and character.  We often think, because it so appears, that the Lord has softened His stand on betrayal and backstabbing, seemingly excusing deep wounds – even martyrdom.  No.

He is rolling up His sleeves.  The burning coals are His merciful warning call.

Our greatest challenge - getting the fire started

                                                        Our greatest challenge – getting the fire started

Heads aflame.  What are these burning coals?

When we show love to our enemies, we are standing between them and God’s vengeance as His call to shame, His appeal to repent with godly sorrow.  Burning coals of guilt, shame, and remorse – inflamed by the Holy Spirit – can be painful and relentless.  If the Lord ‘grants them repentance’ they will enter into a full knowledge of their guilt and sin’s depravity.  Only Living Waters  extinguish burning coals.

Following his powerful sermon to religious leaders, powers of darkness answered violently upon Stephen, condemning him to death.  This imitator of Christ, so wrapped in the Holy Spirit, pleaded for his killers as the stones crushed his flesh.

Then he fell to his knees and cried with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”  When he said this, he died.  (Acts 7:60)

Was Stephen pleading, “Lord, pretend you didn’t see this!”  or “Lord, let them get away with murder!”?  Out of mercy he cried out for their reconciliation, for the Lord to grant repentance and, in doing so, absolve their guilt.  The very next verse, “And Saul was there…” bears witness to the answer of Stephen’s powerful prayer, later piercing the heart of at least one offender, heaping many burning coals upon his head.  The shame and conviction from desecrating Christ’s Body underpinned Paul’s salvation and launched him into abandonment to the Lord’s service.

Forgiving our enemies does not erase the consequences of their act, “God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.” Forgiving criminal and other acts does not preclude punishment but releases offenders from the personal debt to victims.  Many of the forgiven are ‘free’ behind bars, entering into the presence of God and His purposes.

Of His believers Jesus declares, “You are the light of the world”, in a world increasingly wicked and dark.  We have a personal Savior so intimate that He calls us His Body.  Our enemies are His enemies and, when we relinquish our will and determine to walk blameless before Him, the Lord gains glory in the battle – His Kingdom advances. 

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  A “consuming fire” is our God.  He is able to burn in the hearts of our offenders now, push them back or eliminate them.  Can we meditate upon the Lord’s power to recompense, even eternal judgment, and not pity the unrepentant?

“Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies, the hairy crown of those who go on in their sins.”  (Psalm 68:21)

Syrian Christians slain. "I will repay" declares God.

Syrian Christians slain. “I will repay” declares God.

“He takes personally every act of dishonor as well as every act of kindness done to His disciples.” (Safely Home, Randy Alcorn, excerpt)

ENCOUNTERING CHRIST WHEN DEATH AND DARKNESS REIGN

One of the greatest sermons ever preached may be the shortest – the last dying words of a born again but tortured man.  Destined for glory, his last words on earth were ordained and anointed by God and still resound throughout the ages with eternal value.   Judged by a ruthless government, his day of execution neared with crushing dread, fear, remorse and anguish.  However, within that nightmare, amidst the powers of darkness, he was redeemed.  He honored God in his remaining moments and preached a message that should stir our hearts today.

“Don’t you fear God?” he preached, rebuking the unbeliever and even us today.  We are often among those who insult and challenge God in times of turmoil and confusion, in the midst of  pain and anguish.  So apt to put God on trial, how many times have we indicted Him in our hearts?  In a culture of self importance and self esteem, ‘fear of God’ becomes an obsolete virtue, yet it is the only position from which the life of God flows toward us.   The preacher continued, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve…”   We are that lawbreaker, deserving of the same death – the very wages that our deeds have earned.  (Romans 6:23) 

What an appointment – condemned to die with the Giver of Life!  The most hopeless moment of his life empowered with shekhinah glory and divine revelation of Jesus, the King with an eternal Kingdom.   In utter humility of failure and worldly condemnation, this brother has the bold faith to cry out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Dig deep into this message recorded in Luke 23:40-43.   With a humble heart and short message (under forty words), this famous nameless man of God demonstrated great eternal truths.  Firstly, there is nothing random about the works and plans of God.  Creator of all, He is sovereign over all.  Only omnipotent God can promise that “all things work together for good” for His people because He will ordain it so. Even the most dreaded and heartbreaking events can, in His hand, become turning points with divine purpose and destiny.  The excruciating death of this man was an ordained appointment with eternal life.

Secondly, this brother teaches us to suffer well, with endurance and humble faith, that we might see God, fellowship with Him in suffering, and share in His glory.  Can we believe that the Lord can carry us through our darkest hour, through the torment of our worst failure?  When crushed by our own sin, can we trust in Christ’s mercy and faithfulness?  “Everyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”  (Romans 10:11)   The living Word of God has the power to rob Satan of victory every time. In spite of disappointment, tragedy or pain, we can say as Job in 42:2,

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”

Thirdly, we are challenged to finally die to this world and relinquish our love for the things therein.  The appealing self-empowering, and self-gratifying culture of our society is an alluring façade, built to supplant the supremacy of God and deny Him due honor and worship.  The pleasures of this world distract while the achievements in this world puff up.   Every strength and ‘self help’ offered by man dilutes our dependence on the faithfulness of God and His supernatural power. Worldly success and prosperity here do not propel us toward heaven and moreover, they are the weakest oars in the storm.  Only when our eyes are fixed on Christ can our love of this temporal world fade away and bring eternity and God’s Kingdom into focused view.

What man intended for condemnation and death was God’s appointment for infamous pardon and eternal life.  Our Savior was indeed “numbered with the transgressors” and surely we are they.   Apart from His protection, powers of hell will tempt, scheme and ensnare, accusing God during our darkest hour.   However, it is the fear of God that rightly aligns us with Him.   Suffering pries us from our confidence in the flesh and love for this world.   Surrendered to the Lord, we have every assurance that His presence is with us and will speak life into every dark hour and lost hope.   Like our famed brother on the cross, we also, as redeemed transgressors, will be honored with words of life for others, words backed by heaven with divine purpose and eternal value.

 

"For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies."

“Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Luke 23:43

                                         

Do Real Christians Have ANXIETY ATTACKS?

dizzy image

Or get depressed…..enough to want to die??

A wrong understanding toward these questions stunts the spiritual growth of some and truly damages the spiritual life and fellowship of others. Wrong understanding, often a spiritual haughtiness, can lead brethren – even church bodies – to assess the afflicted as faith deficient. ‘Caring spiritual folks’ shoot pellets of scripture, even sing songs and deliver sermons to convince the depressed soul they need not and should not suffer. ‘Only believe’ invalidates the place of total anguish and despair that true brethren often suffer.

Yes, true brethren often suffer.

We can firstly acknowledge here that sin will reap a harvest of destruction in the life of a believer and the discipline and chastisement of the Lord will be painful and costly. There is no doubt that sin will bring despair, guilt, loss, and emotional turmoil. However, we must also acknowledge that a God led life, one which seeks the Lord with a heart to obey, can be afflicted with great emotional suffering – overwhelming sorrow, weighty depression, attacks of anxiety.

Yes, a God led life…afflicted with overwhelming sorrow, weighty depression, attacks of anxiety.

With sin we are ‘reaping what we sow’. However, when suffering comes upon those who strive toward godliness all can be shaken but one immovable anchor: the promise that all turmoil, strife, and despair are held under the design of a sovereign God who can weave great eternal purpose into every pang of pain.

Spiritual giants such as Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, are few of the many anointed who battled with deep inner pain. Great preachers, expositors, and missionaries often quietly suffer the weight of reoccurring depression, anxiety and despair. The question is not why, but why not?? They carry a cross – following in the shadow of a suffering Savior – who suffered great physical, emotional and spiritual pain on His way to victory. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. (Jesus, Matt 26:38, Mark 14:34) God Incarnate feeling overwhelmed…to the point of death.

The great prophet Elijah, in a time of deep discouragement and despair, “…prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough’, he said, ‘Take my life.’” (I Kings 19:4) God’s Word reveals to us the emotional oppression and anguish of godly men, testifying of His sovereign power and ultimate victory over EVERY affliction, ailment, and onslaught over His Body. Ultimate victory does not negate the interim, longsuffering afflictions and attacks upon our body, mind, and soul while in this fallen world. We may be crushed and 100% of us will die one day. But there is an intimacy that is birthed when we hold tight to the Lord when darkness comes with inner threshing.

Depression and anxiety are not the fruits of faith deficiency – they can actually be the ground upon which spiritual fruits grow for God’s glory. Whether the He takes us through the storm or quells the thrashing waves altogether, the Lord Himself aligns with our pain, revealing Himself through itnever forsaking us in it.

Our frail, temporal bodies – prone to sickness, injury, mental anguish, dwell in a fallen world, wrought with powers of darkness that war against us. Those who venture, with faith, deep into the battle may fall under greatest attack. The apostle Paul solemnly warns, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days”. (II Timothy 3:1) We are assuredly in the ‘last days’ and they are indeed ‘terrible’. Those acquainted with despair and those serving in the trenches receive this truth and wisely gain a life view focused on eternity, a view with great value in this temporal, condemned world.

We, as believers, can be ‘down for the count’ and, while there, experience further alienating pain and confusion as modern Christendom makes a ‘faith deficiency’ diagnosis; disavowing possible medical or other interventions. The place of pain is not a place of defeat or waste, but a place of opportunity, of separation, even assigned place of intimacy with the Lord.

Even the weakest heartcry keeps us afloat

WATERS OF AFFLICTION WILL NOT OVERCOME US

Believers have anxiety attacks, bouts of depression and despair but unlike the world, our endurance through the darkness can yield supernatural reward and promise.   As  painful tilling of rocky ground, the Lord can enlarge our hearts for Him, humble us to raise us higher and refine us for His eternal glory.

Crushed in the Wilderness

Christ makes the futile wilderness fruitful

Christ makes the futile wilderness fruitful

For many, the epic ‘Ten Commandments’ depicts the story of God’s people oppressed as slaves by Pharaoh in Egypt. More powerful and graphic than the movie however, the book of Exodus recounts in detail God’s triumph over the contesting powers of darkness. The infamous climax to this spiritual battle shows utter defeat for the slave masters and a glorious exodus – mass departure – freedom for the people of God. These chosen people of God were delivered from their oppressors and marked for a victorious entry into the Promised Land. The Israelites witnessed the miraculous and awesome display of God’s power and deliverance yet the journey towards God’s promise exposed their faithlessness and rebellion. Malcontent and fear slanders the faithfulness of God as the Israelites cower before their enemies.

“We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are….If only we had died in Egypt! Or in the desert…We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (from Numbers 13 & 14)

Back to captivity?

God Himself led them into a desert and decreed that none of them would enter the land promised to them. “In this desert your bodies will fall-every one of you twenty years and older…who has grumbled against me”. (Numbers 14:29) The Lord provided their necessities as they wandered through the wilderness for 40 years however, they lived without destination, without inspiration, without the victory that comes from believing God.

In Deuteronomy 8, Moses expounds the Lord’s purpose for them in this wilderness; to humble them, to test them – reveal their hearts – and cause them to hunger after God. Further, God led them “…to teach them that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”. Forty years, traveling 240 miles to nowhere, living under the chastisement of God, they knew that futile land would also be their grave.

In our lives, the desert place within us can be one of emptiness and detachment; transitional times without sign posts. Uncertainty marks the wilderness. Disappointment, failure and downfall – even success – can rob our sure footing and confidence. Many seek meaning and resolution through encouragement of friends, family, professionals, self-help. However, when we can see that it is GOD who leads us into the wilderness with divine purpose, the desert becomes a place of great fruitfulness – even victory – as we see our living Lord before us.

 “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2)

The Son of God was led by the Spirit, as were the Israelites, into the wilderness yet the Lord demonstrates that this desolate place of battle, struggle, and solitude becomes a place of victory and growth as God grooms and prepares us for His service.

You will know you’re in the desert when you get there. ‘Self’, your own strength, deflates and all that seemed sure and predictable slowly unravels. Plans and expectations seem to lose life and fall to the ground. If you knew the presence of God and  the flow of the Holy Spirit – you now  sense a shut down, stagnant in…

a boat with no current.

…a boat with no current.

Gusto and joy ebb away as the ‘sure’ callings of God in our life come to a halt. Like the Israelites, God leads us into the desert to humble us, to test and reveal our hearts, causing us to see the futility of our own fleshly efforts.  Here the Lord may point to unconfessed sin in our life or even our self reliance –all that compromises His preeminent call and lordship over our lives. Pride is damaged as lofty goals dry up in the desert.

We may or may not be fasting as Christ did in the wilderness but God will cause us to hunger after Him. God’s call to wait upon Him with humility and patience challenges our natural strive for immediacy. Yet when God Himself deflates us, detours our course and stops the flow He does so with great purpose. Separating us is a call to intimacy unlike any other. The refining and crushing of the desert is unique.

When, after 40 days, Jesus was led out of the wilderness he “…returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…” (Luke 4:14)  While the Israelites had failed, Christ triumphed, setting a pattern of victory that we can follow.

Where God leads us He awaits us. When the Lord tests us, humbles us, and reveals our hearts in a place of barrenness, I pray that we seek Him there, trust Him there. By sovereign design He will teach us and refill us, leading us out of the wilderness with less of us and more of Him.

 

The Armenian Question

armenian children genocide
“The Armenian Question” is a phrase historically rooted to the Armenian Genocide, the cruelly horrific massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks. Premeditated and systematic, history records the desecration of a nation – the near extinction of a people group. Often seen as a Christian persecution, the torture, rapes, mass killings and death marches punctuate immeasurable grief endured from 1915 to 1922. Adding to the inhumanity is the ongoing Turkish denial of such atrocities, a futile standpoint in light of historical fact, serving only to fester deep wounds.
Armenians often boast of being ‘the first Christian nation, 301 AD’. I myself was such a boaster who, without notice, could give a historical account of King Tiridates and Saint Gregory the Illuminator to anyone who would listen. From a Biblical perspective, claiming a nation be Christian broadens the definition of Christian to near obscurity if a Christian is one who decidedly repents, receives forgiveness, and follows and serves Christ as Lord. Nonetheless, Armenia was a nation, clothed with a claim to Christ, who was brutalized, pummeled and massacred by Islamic neighbors. History reveals the fate of Armenian borders and genocide survivors around the world. An untold causality, in this near death of a nation, is faith in the living Christ as many in surviving generations have deemed God irrelevant and/or non-existent.

With vehemence an Armenian Question took root: “Where was God?” – a question with deep accusation, not spiritual search.

Rhetorical accusation, without searching, justifies a self-made, even self-serving answer. While there exists an innate desire to know one’s Maker, there is also prideful satisfaction of dismissing God, judging Him irrelevant or non-existent, to live a life seemingly free from His authority. For some however, there is a grieving desire to know God and personally receive the truth of His sovereignty in light of gross injustice and suffering. While volumes have been written on these subjects, there are Biblical truths to ponder in beginning this search for understanding. “God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6) and what we find in sincere and diligent search will open a relationship with the living God.

The Bible presents prophetic scriptures pointing to the Savior, Jesus Christ. The coming Christ did not change the course of a wicked and dark world. In fact, in response to the Savior’s birth the king of Judea ordered a massacre, killing all the male children under two in efforts to kill the Son of God (Matthew 2:16). God never said He would change the course of this world, He pronounced His coming judgment on our fallen world. Yet the Bible, as well as believers through the ages and today, proclaims the Spirit of God indwelling faithful men with supernatural power to endure.

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“This is my beloved Son” God proclaimed at the onset of Christ’s ministry and at His transfiguration, seen in Matthew 17 and Mark 9. God allowed, even predestined, His only Son, beloved Son, to die a worse death than we could ever know. Tortured and mocked, forsaken by His people, forsaken by His Father, shamed with public execution, the Son of God took on our sins and defeated death. The punishment for every vile and violent act, hatefulness, selfishness, murder, slander – the pride of man – all laid upon the sinless Son of God as He died in our place. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,” the Bible encourages, “…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:2) Your salvation, my salvation was the joy set before Him. Not so we would enjoy this world, but that we would enjoy eternity with Him, being reconciled to God.

The Armenian Genocide was a horrific display of brutal wickedness – not quickly done nor in the dark but a procession of death – while the world watched. Those with power chose not to intervene as a nation was crushed. Men at heights of leadership utilize great skill in covering guilt, cloaking complicity, and diverting responsibility. There is accountability upon all of us who do nothing when screams of terror come forth.  While cries for justice slowly die of exhaustion, God remembers every detail with accuracy.  “Vengeance is Mine”, says the Lord, “I will repay”. Even the most just of men have but a brief lifetime to exact judgment. God has eternity.

“Armenia – the first Christian nation, 301 AD” is a historical fact but an unlikely spiritual reality. No king can decree that all his subjects repent, and ‘deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Christ’ with a readiness to give their lives for this faith. (Luke 9:23&24)  Nonetheless, many with great faith in Christ perished.   Many survivors held to Christ with a living faith, only possible through the Holy Spirit.   Following the Savior is an unpopular path on which thousands today suffer persecution, rejection and martyrdom.  Yet surrendered to Christ, His Spirit indwells us and “the joy set before Him” becomes our joy, His strength becomes our strength.  Only He can take us through a storm of suffering.   Testimonies of Christian martyrs tell of the “fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings”, often describing an overshadowing love and power that conquers the sting of death and brings revelation of eternal life.

“Where was God?” is a cry of anguish and pain but filled with accusation to a Holy God. He can receive our anger, our unbelief, and accusation if, once vented, we can honestly cry, “Who are you, God? Forgive me, Lord, show yourself to me.”

Great – But Left Alone to Die

Old prison windowHis was no ordinary conception, born to parents past child bearing age.  John the Baptist was the fulfillment of great prophecy – bridging the Old Testament with the New – in the ‘spirit of Elijah’.  Endowed with the Holy Spirit in the womb, he consecrated his life to one mission:  ushering into the world the incarnation of God on earth.  John’s calling exceeded the realm of priesthood.  He would not sit before the scribes or teachers of the Torah.  He became John the Baptist through years of sequestered fellowship with God.   When he “grew and became strong in the spirit” he was drawn to the desert in preparation for his high calling.  This meant total separation from the world, from all that would distract, all that would influence and indeed – even that which would bring natural comfort – home, family and friends.

Prevailing culture and social protocols had no power to restrain John’s convicting preaching.  This great herald emerged with divine anointing, baptizing an estimated 300,000 in Judea.  His anointed ministry was fulfilled at the sight of Christ, “Behold!  The Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world!.”  With words endowed by the Holy Spirit, this was the peak of John’s life and perhaps the beginning of the end to his profound ministry.  He would not serve alongside Christ in His mission, nor would he continue his preaching and baptizing.  “He must increase, I must decrease” was his prophetic declaration. This powerful, godly man was arrested by Herod the tetrarch.  Imprisoned in the remote fortress of Macherus, John was again separated from all and – at the whim of a dancing girl – was beheaded. Disciples went and claimed the headless body of this beloved prophet of God and buried him.

In Luke 7, Jesus declared John to be a prophet, even “more than a prophet…among those born to women, there is no one greater than John”.  The Lord’s ministry was well founded as John languished in a cold stone cell. ‘No one greater’, Jesus proclaimed of his anointed cousin, but did nothing to rescue John.  All knowing and all powerful, Jesus Christ knew of the darkness that overshadowed John and the debauchery that would lead to executing this holy man.  It was well within the Lord’s power to dispatch powerful angels, to release John and even strike Herod dead.  What was Jesus doing as John – held in highest esteem by Jesus – was led to his gruesome death?

In Isaiah 53, an infamous prophecy of the coming Christ, Jesus is called “a man of sorrows”.  Is there not great  sorrow in knowing that your beloved kin, acclaimed even in heavenly places, is suffering and will die at the hands of reprobates – and you could but don’t intercede and rescue? 

In God’s sovereignty, evil men do not prevail.

John had a singular high calling, yet it was far second, an underpinning, to the mission and passion of Christ on earth.  Leaving the grandeur and majesty of heaven, Jesus came to be despised, rejected, oppressed.  While He displayed supernatural power in compassion – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead – the Son of God came not to extend His power to intercept or overthrow worldly kings and kingdoms.  The Son of God refrained from rising up against Herod, an act which would change the course of His mission,  the pathway of the cross.   Rather than establish Himself as ‘hero’, saving a man from wicked men in this world, Jesus maintained His singular focus – saving mankind from damnation for all eternity.  As Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness with places of power and position in this world – regardless of outward appearance  here –  again the Lord prevails.   He would allow no temporal victory in a condemned world to undermine His victory over death for all eternity.

This “Man of sorrows” had the anguish of foreknowledge here and would deeply grieve the death of His beloved prophet, servant, and cousin who would be left alone to die.   More than foreknowledge however, Christ divinely knows – even if we don’t – that for those surrendered to Him,  suffering and death are servants to the purposes of God.

Great – and none greater – was John the Baptist.   His divine mission complete, the sword could not rob him.  “Alone” was John’s place of communion and strength in God.  In the desert or a prison cell, John knew intimate heavenly fellowship that would strengthen and encourage, buffering all torment and fear.  The one who prepared the way for  God into the world would himself be ushered from this world to great reception and reward in the presence of almighty God.

 

Crushed By God

“Why? Why, why, why!!?” cried my anguished heart toward God, “What kind of God are you??!!” “How could you let this happen!!!!”

After a personal acceptance of God, trauma and suffering can be the most fiery trial of faith. At this cross road, many become embittered and cold toward their Maker. Their faith, once alive – now dries up like a dead leaf.
Be assured of two things at this juncture – God can handle our anger, our accusation and disbelief. He will not take on our challenge – the powerless clay rising up against the potter. As He Himself entered into every realm of suffering and temptation, He does not judge our anguish before Him. But He waits.
You may be at this juncture, have crossed this point, or perhaps will face a time of crisis in life and in your faith. When in the fire, we cannot see clearly nor can we think or meditate when the flames rise up around us. But no fire burns forever. When we step forth from it, still smoldering and weak, will we turn our back against God or will we ask – with heartfelt quest, “What kind of a God are you?”
He is waiting for this because He is ready to answer. He holds the powerful salve for our heart which alone can reach the inner recesses of sorrow and bitterness. Only God can prepare us to hear from Him. The Lord does not waste any of our afflictions, our pain, our loss – through the fire comes a powerful presence and revelation of God. We must go from the faith that God exists to the faith that He is sovereign.
For the Christian, surrender brings victory. Affliction and grief are not random nor has calamity occurred outside of God’s providence. These are challenging milestones of faith – battles with great reward. Only in the sovereignty of God can we begin to accept and see divine purpose. And only in deliberate seeking can we glimpse beyond the natural, towards eternity, where glory comes from being crushed by God.