ANTICIPATING FREEDOM

And one thing more:  Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.”   Philemon 1:22

paul_in_prison

While admittedly an “old man” and prisoner in Rome (~59-61 AD) Paul wrote to Philemon, a wealthy believer in the city of Colossae, a brief letter through which come timeless truths.  Paul commends Philemon’s love and encouragement to other saints, his ministry of refreshment, and notably from this, Paul moves into his central purpose for writing – his accolades and advocacy for Philemon’s fugitive slave Onesimus.

The unwritten truths of this epistle are as significant as Paul’s actual message.  ‘Old man Paul’, writing from chains, never waivers from his faithful service to the Lord – extoling, encourageing, and instructing as from a pulpit.  Assured of God’s sovereignty, Paul knew that neither his freedom nor his chains were determined by Roman decree and power.   Hence he could request, with full expectation, that his Christian brother Philemon prepare a guest room for him.  Anticipating freedom, Paul plans lodging with his wealthy friend, over 900 miles away.

Isn’t faith rooted in anticipation?  What are we anticipating about God in times of darkness, oppression and trial?  Could we, while seeking relief and freedom from some oppression – while in our own chains – reach out to others in service to God?   Are we standing on the anticipation of freedom, the certainty of God’s deliverance?

Christians are the only ones with the right to sing their victory song while still in the battle.  That is the essence of faith in a sovereign and worthy God.  We can sing the victory song before the Red sea parts, before our answer comes.  We are authorized and justified to walk towards those fearful waters before knowing God’s plan.  Pastor David Wilkerson expounded these truths in his message, ‘Right Song, Wrong Side’, 11/15/09, declaring, “Anybody can praise the Lord when the victory comes…anyone can dance when their prayers are answered”.  But how do we live in this anticipated freedom, the deep conviction that God will deliver?

None of us are currently chained by Roman soldiers – but our trials and battles may seem just as binding and oppressive.   The painful entanglement of sin, the hounding of false guilt, fear and anxiety, or spiritual and emotional harassment begin to chain our hearts and mind.  When the devil magnifies loneliness, failure and loss – you are descending into that cell.  

And yet, while there, how can we call out and say, “Prepare a room for me, I’m coming out”?

Paul wrote in I Corinthians 10:13: “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.   But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”   “A way out” when we are tempted?  Aren’t we looking for “a way out” from darkness, “a way out” of oppressive trial and tribulation?!

But the temptation, even idolatry, is right there, in the place between the chains and freedom.   It is there where we are tempted to lose faith, tempted to complain, endlessly ruminate and ultimately slander God.  We are tempted to idolatry when we see the trial as bigger than God.

The Apostle Paul believed the Word written through him in I Corinthians 10:13.  Without a ‘writ of habeas corpus’ he fully believed in the Lord’s power to free him.  Not chained to discouragement, fear, or unbelief,  Paul was free to trust God and hear from Him while in the place of bondage.  From intimacy with the Lord he could say with authority, “Prepare a guest room for me”…I’m coming home.

The enemy will hone into our secret fears, personal failures and overwhelming trials and magnify them with supernatural craft.  There is great temptation to agree with what we see…there’s no way out!  This is a disaster! I’ll never make it, I can’t even get out of bed!  The Lord Himself is the “way out” and our place, as part of His Body, is to step out and turn toward Him.   Pharaoh would have laughed if the Israelites sang before the Red Sea, sandwiched between the water and the world’s most powerful army.  But that is the faith that most pleases God: Praising Him before He moves, worshipping Him before the victory.

If we have succumbed to despair, even accused and slandered the Lord, now is the time to reconcile and repent.  The Lord can put us in ‘prison’ to expose our hearts and humble us to be of greater use in His Kingdom.  Therein is the challenge of faith, the call to claim the sovereignty of God:  Decide to believe a victorious Psalm, praise Him and worship Him even when your heart seems the heaviest.   Sing Exodus chapter 15 before the sea parts, before your deliverance comes, taking that spiritual step toward Him…reaching out to the hand that holds the key to every chain.

"In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free." Psalm 118:5

“In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.” Psalm 118:5

 

THE GOD OF BROKEN PIECES

"I have become broken pottery..." Psalm 31:12

“I have become like broken pottery…” Psalm 31:12

From broken and useless….to sharp and piercing.

There is a brokenness common to man – the cumulative destruction of sin. Within our very nature is the propensity, “our own evil desire” to be dragged away, enticed and enthralled. An alluring storefront to every dark behavior beckons us in. James chapter 1:13-15 describes this entrapment and the end result…smashed lives, broken families, despair that leads to death.

There is, however, a brokenness common to the believer – even as one strives to walk in God’s favor and light. They have not availed themselves to darkness but avail themselves to God – offering their lives as His temple in which He may dwell. Where He dwells, however,  He must govern and reign. Every aspect of our life then falls under God’s authority.   He will build up, demolish, give and take away whatever is necessary to make our temporary lives useful for His eternal kingdom.

There is a great truth, however, for both the repentant sinner and faithful believer – God can greatly use life’s broken pieces for His glory – confounding the powers of darkness and forging ahead with His Kingdom.

When man is striving for excellence in this world, he builds himself up, educates, trains, and produces – networking his skills and accomplishments – for accolades and gain. When God is working His excellence in a man, He unravels, crushes, and separates – clearing out the ‘temple’ for His supernatural presence. There is often pain, loss, confusion and disappointment. As a “living sacrifice unto the Lord” our ‘personal kingdoms’ – careers, family life, possessions – become God’s domain.

Yes, He is our loving heavenly Father….but He is also a Man of War, a Consuming Fire, and Righteous Judge. We are not just His sheep, but solders trained by Him for battle – the spoils of which have eternal value.the souls of men.

When our lives are ‘cracked’, we often glue the pieces and move on. When our lives are smashed, there is an undoing that God and only God can redeem as He may well be the hammer that shattered our ‘kingdom’.

In Genesis 39, Joseph, left for dead by his brothers, rises up with the favor and prosperity from God within Pharaoh’s kingdom. His life is governed by God and yet, with divine purpose, slander and false accusation puts this favored and faithful youth in prison. “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor….” The Lord took his position, social status and esteem and smashed them, unraveling Joseph’s life to prepare him for greater use.

Whatever is built in our lives with fleshly foundation or human striving – places of confidence and security – are subject to the Lord’s demolition. Even in areas where God has promoted and excelled our position, our ministry, our status – His wrecking ball will likely swing to break, wound, and undo that He may rebuild, heal and create – forging us ahead with supernatural understanding and matured faith.

Can we trust Him at the juncture of brokenness? Can we declare as the Psalmist in 119:71, “It was good for me to be afflicted…”? It is not enough to mechanically recite Romans 8:28. The Lord is seeking the trust of those who stand at the precipice of loss and despair, waiting to lead us forward by His hand and by His Word onto paths unmarked.

The steps of faith here are the heaviest. It may only be sheer will that points us to the Word and compels us to pray. Worship here is the sacrifice of praise. But this is the juncture of miracles, this is the juncture of supernatural. It is here where the Lord takes the broken pieces and magnifies Himself and His power. When Jesus broke the five loaves in Mark 6 they fed over five thousand people, yielding 12 basketfuls of broken pieces. Without the hand of God, this bread would have remained five simple loaves, baked by locals and eaten without acclaim.

Have entanglements of sin caused brokenness and despair? Or has God, in His faithfulness, brought about loss and suffering to propel our faith for greater use? There is only one recourse for deliverance, one position for victory: Defer to His sovereignty, offer up to Him the broken pieces of our life, and trust Him for His presence and favor. He is not a god that glues things together, but a God who heals and rebuilds that which was broken, with supernatural design and purpose.

What will God make from your broken pieces?

What will God make from your broken pieces?

 

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.”

“…Yet Not One Was Healed Except Naaman the Syrian”

naaman-healedFor most, it is not hard to believe that God can heal our sicknesses and pain. That the creator can reach into our fragile and temporal bodies and cleanse us of all illness is a foundational tenet of all religions, a power ascribed, with hope, to all gods. Jesus Christ, however, is the only God who became flesh, dwelt among us, and displayed His sovereign divinity – walking in the supernatural, touching the lives of those around Him. Healing the sick, miraculously feeding thousands, even reviving the dead characterized the power of God. Upon His ascension, Christ’s followers, endowed with the Holy Spirit, proclaimed the glory and presence of God as they walked in the same supernatural power. More than healing, they experienced the sustaining power of God through violent persecution, rejection, and martyrdom …supernatural endurance.

Those who walk with the Lord inevitably see the living Holy Spirit move in their own lives as God makes His presence known – giving life to His Word and delivering them from the futility of sin. But the onslaught of cancers and medical calamities brings a desperate cry from believers and unbelievers alike for healing, a miraculous intervention of God. Some wonder, has God lost His power to heal? Has His power – or even worse, His love for us – diminished? Why do our cries, our pleas, even our begging for healing seem unanswered? Understanding, in part, maybe found through another question. Is the power of God going forth elsewhere? Why there and not here?

A glimpse into the world of missions finds the outpouring of God upon the people in places such as India. Entrenched in the spiritual darkness of millions of gods and power of witchcraft, many- who never heard the name of Jesus- find the truth and light of Christ as He heals incurable diseases, cancers, and afflictions. Families and entire villages enter into a living faith in Christ through His supernatural touch upon their lives. Their devotion to ‘millions of gods’ becomes a worship of one true Savior. Step into their world, the world of converted Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and see a body of believers who will live for Christ and speak His truth at great cost- rejection, persecution, even their own lives.

Humility brings forth living truth. While the Lord owes us no explanation nor are we deserving of His beneficence, there stands in His Word truths upon which our faith can take root and grow. “No” is an answer that will reveal the state of our heart and gauge our faith, provoking us to forge ahead in pride or humble us before God.

“And there were many in Israel with leprosy, yet not one was healed – only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:27)

Referring to the historical account in II Kings 5 where God, in sovereign power and deliberate appointment, passed by His own people, the Israelites, and supernaturally healed and delivered a foreigner. Christ delivered this scathing rebuke to those before Him in the synagogue, posing an ominous crossroad of faith to these listeners. In this passage of scripture God in the flesh stands before His chosen people declaring ‘miracles passed you by but were bestowed upon foreigners who knew Me not’. Israel suffered in a state of rebellious disregard for God’s Word. They had rejected the prophets sent by God and would they now reject God’s Son. In verse 29, following Christ’s rebuke, rather than repenting, the congregants were enraged,

“They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him off the cliff.”

Rebuke provokes the heart toward repentance or pride. The cry of a prideful heart, however desperate, will call upon God as servant – challenging God to prove Himself, discarding Him when He declines.

God speaks through healing and miracles. Not public service acts, His work in us is deliberate, for His purpose and glory. It is work with a view of eternity – that which brings reconciliation and salvation – that man might dwell with Him forever.

Assuredly God speaks through illness, pain and suffering. “Pain is God’s megaphone” calling many into a living faith and presence of God only possible through suffering. In a culture entrenched with the love of self, preservation of self, promotion of self – the worship of self – pain, suffering, incarceration, and even anguish are often used by God to separate us from the flow of the world and draw us unto Himself. “No” is the beginning of God’s answer into our lives if we are faithful enough to wait on Him through our pain. For the surrendered heart, His work in the storm, through the pain, and during the grief is powerful and intimate.

The move of God upon our lives, His answer to our prayer – be it ‘yes’ or ‘no’- is a call. It is a call into His presence and a call to glorify Him in this dark world. Physical healing is temporary – all will eventually die. The most neglected miracle is that almighty God humbled Himself and in love, stooping low enough to speak to man at all.

Are we hungry for His call upon our lives or is our prayer and cry to Him conditional, based on the right answer at the right time?
Like Israel, our society has rejected the ways of God and would indeed throw Him off a cliff. If ‘God exalts the humble but opposes the proud’ we must choose our camp carefully with deliberation. Is God still healing? Is He willing to heal? Yes and yes. If our cry is to know Him, to live in His shadow and walk in His Spirit we will always receive answer to prayer – an answer that upholds the promises of God in our life, speaks personally to our heart, and sends forth His glory through our life into this world.

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.