Monday, October 6, 2014

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Be Not Downcast, O My Soul

                    Sad to say, we live in a world in which professing Christians are becoming more conformed to the world, and less transformed into the image of God.   Too many pastors behave as if they are CEO’s, more involved in the promotion of five things which are totally unrelated to the spiritual feeding of their flock: attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, and square footage.  The church is no longer referred to as a church, but as a campus.  The planting of a church is often done as if it were a business based on a survey sent out to the surrounding peoples to determine what the people are seeking for a church to do for them and the needs of their community.  It seems that pastors are often more interested in becoming community organizers than they are in spreading the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Sermons are often based on furthering the prevalent ideas of social justice, while sermons encouraging the recognition of sin and need of repentance in order to be reconciled unto the Lord are being put on the back burner, or ignored all together.  For all intensive purposes, we are moving full speed ahead towards becoming the church of the latter days, “Having the appearance of godliness, but lacking the power thereof: from such turn away.” (II Tim. 3:5)  Doing “good works” is celebrated and glorified, while the work of Jesus on the cross is reduced to a less than minor status.

          The following foundational doctrines of the Christian faith are being steadily eroded: the work of Christ on the Cross; that Jesus, the Son of God, was born of a virgin, removing the entrance of sin through the seed of man, and through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, creating Jesus as the only sinless person able to die and pay the sin debt for mankind; the doctrine that there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood; that there is no other name than Jesus under heaven through whom salvation may be found; and the evidence, witnessed by over 500 people, of  His resurrection from the dead, proving that He was truly who He said He was, the Son of God by whom all who would choose to believe would be saved and given eternal life.  “Jesus said ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and no man cometh to the Father except through me.’ ” The Bible does not give any suggestion that there are many paths to God.  Yet even within the church today, there are prominent leaders, such as the new Pope and other liberal clergy, who are choosing to neglect the sound doctrine of the scriptures, but are willingly going along with the teachings of “seducing spirits and doctrines of demons” such as: there are many paths to God; and salvation is given unto the atheists who deny even the existence of God.  The cross, need for repentance from sin, Hell, suffering the judgment of God as a consequence of forgetting God; obedience to the word of God, and other sound doctrines of the Bible are marginalized and/or totally discarded as intolerant and no longer relevant in the eyes of the modern ‘believer.’     

          Too often we are being filled with “feel good” sermons that are meant to build up the ego of mankind to fulfill self centered goals.  These ‘seeker friendly’ churches are more interested in building members who are concentrating more on the things of this world, rather than the greater importance of our eternal life to come.  The people have ears trained to hear only about “What makes me more successful, more financially prosperous, and gives unto me an overall state of self happiness;” you know the messages of health, wealth, and the pursuit of pleasure and happiness for the here and now. 

          We, the body of believers, are equally to blame for the condition of the church.  Today’s modern ‘Christian’ wants a user friendly church, where he can satisfy his social needs, without any mention of his eternal needs: to recognize sin, to repent, to change his ways, to hide the word in his heart that he may not sin against God, to seek to become holy as our Lord is holy, and to live a life in obedience unto our Lord who is both a loving God, and a just God.  The modern believer is all in when it comes to hearing about and receiving God’s blessings, as long as there is no connection made to being subject to the judgment of God, should we choose to live in rebellion and disobedience unto Him.  God becomes a genie to serve us, rather than the Lord God whom we are to serve and glorify.  Thus, the church becomes a place where this temporary life and man are glorified, loosing all sight of glorifying God in this world that we might be prepared for the more abundant life in the eternal life to come.  We’ve succeeded in turning things upside down altogether.   

          Is it any wonder that we wind up with pastors who give sermons that “tickle our ears,” busily telling us what we want to hear, but reluctant to tell us what we need to hear?  It’s almost as if sin, Hell, and repentance have been removed from the Bible.  Furthermore, it seems as if the commandment, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me,” has been replaced with “Thou shalt have any god(s) of your own choosing.”  After all, certainly God sent His only Son to die for all, whether they believe in Him or not, right?  Oh, you mean that’s not in the Bible?  If it were in the Bible, then God would have lied and played the worst of all jokes on His own Son when He sent Him to die for absolutely no purpose at all.  After all, according to present day thinking, aren’t Buddha, the Hindu gods, the Dalai Lama, Mohammed, Gandhi, our own good works, etc. just as sufficient to provide an equally valid path to salvation?  I submit this one question for each of us to consider.  Who among any of the previously mentioned religions was sinless and died, becoming a Savior who could provide forgiveness of sins for all who believe? The answer is none.  Christ alone was sinless; it was His shed blood alone that could possibly pay the sin debt for whosoever will believe in Him.  He is God incarnate in the form of man, the Living Word. 

          As a result of this erosion of the word of God, we Christians, the body of Christ, have become a bunch of milk toast ineffectual believers.  Many of us have become Christians in name only.   We look and act more like the rest of the people “of the world” instead of retaining a difference that should shine out from within us to reflect the image of God.  Thus, even among God’s own people, there is little or no will to stand, act, and speak out against the growing presence of evil and lawlessness in the world. Due to disobedience and outright rebelliousness, we often live our lives without regard for the ways of our Lord, forgetting that our whole purpose is to glorify God in all of our ways, in thought, word, and deed.  We put God on a shelf and occasionally brush off the dust to use Him when it seems beneficial to meet our selfish desires.  A say this knowing full well that, except for the grace of God, there go I.

          How have we become this church that “has an appearance of godliness, but lacking the power of God?”  We have managed to forget Him quite well, while we fill our hearts with false gods, traditions of man, vain imaginations, and replacing His knowledge and wisdom with the foolishness of mankind.  Out of laziness, apathy, doubt, and unbelief, we have allowed the world and all its false teachings to come in like a flood and wash away the truth of the word, the value of the cross and blood of Jesus, and knowledge that only Christ can provide forgiveness for sin, redemption, and salvation.  How many of us are truly committed to “study the word that we might be a workman that need not be ashamed”?  How many of us take the time to “hide the word in your heart that you might not sin against the Lord your God”?  How many of us spend time with the Lord that His Holy Spirit might be given the opportunity to guide and lead us into all truth (God’s truth, not the corrupted truth of the world)?  How many of us need to remember daily to nail our own will to the cross, and trust in God’s will, purpose, and design for our life?  How many of us even care whether we are walking in the faith of the truth of God, or perhaps find it more convenient and comfortable to be deceived by the wisdom of man apart from God?  We have forgotten the need to guard our hearts against the weapons of the enemy.  In fact, we behave as if there is no enemy.

    I could hear the discouragement and despair in my oldest son’s heart when he once made the following statement: “Mom, honestly, most Christians are frustrated.  All they have left these days is waiting for the Lord to return and trying to act when the Lord opens an occasional door to help or share with others.  One way to describe it would be War fatigue.  Now a day, it’s a spiritual battle to just keep the faith.”  I believe he was right on the mark in his assessment of the times we live in.  We are not facing anything new, for the word of God has forewarned us.  Jesus said: “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring: men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things that are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” (Luke 21: 25, 26)  It can be said that we live in perilous times, and yet in the most exciting of times also, for those who believe and are looking forward to the coming rapture of the church, whether it be tomorrow, next year, or years in the future.  Our hope is NOT in this world, but in Jesus and the world to come as the next scriptures promise us: Jesus said, “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  And when theses things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” (Luke 21: 27, 28)

            Yes, we are most assuredly in a battle of spiritual warfare.  The word tells us that we fight not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of the darkness of this world.  This knowledge should emphasize all the more the necessity of putting on the full armor of God that we might stand against all the fiery darts of the enemy, and having done all to stand, to continue to stand and endure to the end.  We are not told to sit back, wait, and do nothing.  But to take every opportunity, path, and door opened unto us to work while there is still time to take the good news of the gospel, and to bring others into the salvation and security of the ark of Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord.  We are to study and pray to grow daily in the Lord, that we might be better equipped to serve in the army of the Lord.  We are to be diligent in encouraging and lifting one another up, to stand in the gap and intercede through prayer for ourselves and for one another, that we might seek to “be being filled” daily with the power of the Holy Spirit, armed with the word of God and the mind of Christ, that we might glorify the Lord our God in thought, word, and deed.    Yes, the days are hard, and life is fraught with trials and tribulations. Nothing can be accomplished of any lasting value by our own power alone for it is “not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord.”  Let us encourage one another through prayer and supplication unto the Lord in ALL things, both large and small.
            The Lord has told us to bring all our cares unto Him.  He is a mighty God and is more than able to handle all of our concerns and needs.  When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He told us that He would send us the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, to live within you and me.  I know that we can never comprehend the greatness of our Lord God as long as we are limited by our present finite minds.  Having finite minds, we don’t fully realize the great power of the third person of the triune God that Jesus has sent to live within you and me.   When we are born again, it is through the Holy Spirit that God never leaves or forsakes us, but is alive within us giving us a personal relationship with our Lord.  God says he knows every hair on our head.  He is interested in everything about us.  Doesn’t it just boggle your mind to realize that our Lord has loved us so much that He wants to be within us every minute of everyday?  He wants us to turn to Him, to know Him, to communicate our deepest feelings and cares with Him.  He loves you and me with a love that has no boundaries or limits.  He doesn’t want us to behave as if we were mere acquaintances who only share in shallow and superficial conversation with one another.  How do you think your spouse would feel if you treated him/her with such shallow aloofness?  God loves you and me even more than our spouse or any other person on earth could.  That being so, shouldn’t we endeavor to go to him in love, to be with Him, to share precious time to learn from Him and draw nearer to Him?  God is not limited by time and space as we are.  He is God Almighty, Creator of all things, both seen and unseen.  He’s able to take care of everything and everyone all at the same time.  He doesn’t expect us to act as if He is this little god who can handle only the big issues.  He is our ‘personal’ Lord and Savior.  What should that word ‘personal’ mean to us?  For me, it means that I don’t have to wait in line until He can manage to pencil in an appointment for me sometime in His busy schedule.  Instead, His appointment book says “free and available.”  He is ready, willing and able to give me His undivided attention, and it is His “delight” to do so.  The only one that puts any limitations on our personal relationship is me.   Because He is the Almighty Living God, that invitation is given to me, you, and whoever will choose to call upon the name of the Living God in faith.  You and I can crawl up in His lap, and rest secure in His loving and caring arms, through the power of the Holy Spirit any time we want.  We can go to Him when our hearts are full of sadness, or when our hearts are leaping with joy.  He wants us to bring ALL of our cares to Him in prayer.  Are you burdened about cares for your loved ones, or a sick loved one, or even just a simple thing like needing the wisdom to repair a faucet, or find something that was lost?  Nothing is too little or too big that He will not listen and answer your prayers.  That doesn’t mean He always answers yes.  It does mean that He knows the beginning from the end and, if we will put our trust in Him that He always knows what is for our best, He will work all things out for our good.      
            Spiritual warfare is difficult and never ending, for Satan and his demons never cease to “roam too and fro seeking whom he may devour.”  But we have read the last page of the book, and we know and are encouraged by the ending.  Our God reigns. He is in control.  We are joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and we shall reign with Him in His Kingdom forever and ever, world without end.  Until then, we are to continue to fight the good fight, never giving up even in the face of adversity, even unto and including death.  We are to strive: to yield our will to the will of God; rejoice in the Lord that He never gives up on us; believe that that good work which He has begun in us, He will continue until we see Him face to face and he gives us our glorified bodies.  So let us faint not, but look to the Lord.  As we draw near to Him, He draws near to us.  He never leaves us or forsakes us.  And when that old liar himself tries to tell us we are defeated, let us shout with joy in praise to God that “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.”  Be encouraged that “we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and a sound mind.”
            As bad as I think things are sometimes, I remind myself of the perseverance and obedience exhibited in the life of the prophet Jeremiah.  Day after day, year after year, he was sent to take God’s word to God’s rebellious and wayward people.  Yes, that is what astonishes me.  He was NOT speaking to unbelievers, but to those who were believers and “knew” the work of the living God.  They thought they could serve the Lord God Almighty, and go out to party and hang out with all the other false gods at the same time.  He was told to go warn the people “Thus saith the Lord,”  return to the One True Living God or be prepared to receive the consequences for your own choices.  Time after time he warned them in the name of the Lord.  God is a loving and merciful God, but if we refuse to repent and turn back to Him to follow and obey Him, we then choose to heap upon our own heads His judgment and wrath, instead of His grace.  Can you imagine having to be Jeremiah?  Every time he was given the task to warn the people, he already knew that they were filled with pride, a heart of stone, and were not going to listen.  Yes, he is called the weeping prophet, and for good reason.  Does our heart not weep within us every time we fail the Lord ourselves, as well as when we try to bring the word of the gospel to another, only to have them turn away and walk in rebellion against God?  Yet, Jeremiah never gave up the fight, as long as the Lord wanted to use him.  From the beginning, he had to understand that success, in doing his work for the Lord, was not going to be based upon whether everyone turned their hearts back to the Lord and repented.  On the contrary, in general, there were few that turned their hearts back to God.  Yet he was deemed successful for the fact that he was obedient unto the Lord, regardless of the response of the people.  This too is the kind of perseverance that we are to have.  Never give up the good fight to fulfill God’s purpose, plan, and desires.  Never give up being willing to be an instrument to be used of Him. Neither become puffed up if you are chosen to be used.  Remember, He once used Balaam’s ass to speak for Him, and if needed, the rocks would be used to cry out in the name of the Lord.  Never give up praying.  As Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father, forever interceding for you and me, so too are we to follow that same example of praying for one another.  Neither should we ever refuse to receive correction and instruction that we may be melted and molded more and more into His image day by day.
            When feeling frustrated and discouraged there is but one remedy: rejoice in the Lord; praise and give glory to God in all things! Choose to rejoice in Him, in the best of times and in the worst of times.  I know that’s not easy to do, and can’t be done apart from the help of the Holy Spirit.  For encouragement from the Lord, I often turn to the Psalms.  For example, let us refer to Psalm 42.  The writer of this Psalm was human and frail just like you and me.  He thanks God for the gift of life, but he understands that this earthly life is temporary, and this world is not his true home.  In his heart, he too yearns after the Lord, and seeks His presence and peace in the here and now, while also looking forward to his eternal life to come.  “My soul thirsteth for God, for the Living God; when shall I come and appear before God?”  Feeling so down and out, he’s been crying all the day and night.  Feeling so distraught and discouraged, he doesn’t know what to do to pull himself out of these awful doldrums.  He asks himself more than once: “Why art thou downcast, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?”  Yet, even in the midst of this quandary, he knows and reminds himself of the hope he has in the Lord: “Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.”  “Why art thou downcast, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?  Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

                   Among those who profess to be Christians, there seems to be an ever widening chasm in their perception of just how much involvement God should have in the life of each individual.  In large part, the problem seems to be centered on their differing views concerning the validity of the word of God.  Just for the sake of clarity, I am in the camp of those that believes that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.  Therefore, my views are rooted in a biblical world view as opposed to a secular world view.  Secularism, or Humanism, is a religion, and as such is going to create an entirely different world view than one that is based upon the word of God.  There are those who profess to be Christians whose beliefs in God are predominantly influenced by worldly views, due to the fact of the way they have marginalized the importance of God and His word in their lives.

          Before I progress any further, I don’t want to give a false image that I think I am qualified or equipped to judge the status of anyone as either a superior nor  inferior Christian, for only God can judge the heart of man.  No believer should count himself to be a better Christian than someone else who professes to be a believer.  Our differences are often found to be related to the level of our maturity.  Even one’s greater maturity in the Lord does not give one the right to boast, for maturity itself is a work of the Lord in you; therefore, it is God, the Creator of that maturity who is to be glorified, not the one who has received a measure of maturity.  Any views that I may speak of concerning the faith of another are purely speculative on my part.  In a world that is increasingly more wicked and lawless, it is every believer’s responsibility to seek to the Lord to learn to walk in love towards others, both saved and unsaved.  My Lord and Savior keep me ever close to Thee and teach me Thy ways day by day, that I may be an instrument of love to be used of Thee for Thy purposes.  Help me Lord that I may not seek to please mankind, but rather seek to do and be that which is pleasing in thy sight.

          The day has already arrived when making comments such as “Praise the Lord,” and “Thank you Jesus,” giving credit and glory to God for all things in life, is often deemed as offensive and inappropriate in the public arena of life.  Even among some who profess to be Christians, it is considered artificial, needless, and irrelevant.  Referring to what the Bible says can also cause others to respond in a negative manner, as if the word of God is no longer appropriate in one’s normal conversation, or as if it should be reserved for the atmosphere of church only.  For those who do normally think and talk in this manner, they may find that it places an ever widening gulf in relationships that once were close.  The bonds of love that once were strong may now seem strained, as the widening gap tugs and tears at the heart strings.  

          Conflict is bound to occur when one believes in the inerrant word of God, while another views the Bible as just another book written by mere men, and can not be depended upon as revealing total truth.  One will have a biblical world view, while the other will develop a more secularized world view which can not help but muddy the waters of any relationship.  The deception of the world is creeping into and taking root within the church and body of believers.  We find many falling away from biblical truth, as they fall more in line with the world views through acceptance of a different and more ‘tolerant’ gospel which now asserts such things as the following to be good and right even though they are contrary to the word of God:  abortion on demand, homosexuality, marriage equality between those of the same sex, many previously held views about sexual immorality have been reclassified as right instead of wrong , and there the view that there is only one path to God through Jesus is questioned and even denied.  Previously held biblical views are often considered to be antiquated, out of date, and unacceptable to the majority of the new and “more enlightened” believers who accept this different gospel, creating a “new and improved” form of Christianity.   "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:" (Galatians 1:6)     "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him." (II Corinthians 11: 3, 4)

          At times, the dilemma of learning how to walk in love towards unbelievers seems to be easier than trying to walk in love with those who profess to be followers of this ‘new’ reformed version of Christianity.  An unbeliever is not expected to believe in the absolute standard of right and wrong given to the believer through the word of God, or to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.  You know where they stand for they profess no connection with Jesus as Savior or Lord.  However, this falling away from biblical faith is eroding the unity of the body of Christ.  The statement that “A house divided can not stand” is continually proving to be true. The doctrines of our faith and standards for absolute right and wrong are being undermined, muddied, compromised, and often completely obliterated.  And this is all occurring within the body of believers itself.  No wonder that confusion and deception are coming in and taking root to destroy the very foundations upon which our faith was built.  And how do we explain this to non believers?

          That question of how to walk in love often causes the problem of judging others to raise its ugly head, partly due to the existence of this state of confusion, where good is called evil and evil is called good.  No Christian can judge the heart of others; God alone can know the heart of man.  Only God knows all; you and I can know only “as through a mirror darkly.”  As discussed previously, one may be more mature in one area, but weaker in another area.  None of us knows the agenda or priorities that God has set for each individual.  Understanding that is a part of knowing the Lord as our ‘personal’ Lord and Savior.  He works within each of us on an individual level.  I compare this to one of the practices in teaching, especially for those who have learning disabilities. Every child has his strengths and weaknesses.  No one can not be taught as if we are all cut out of the same mold.  A plan must be developed that would suit the needs of the individual. As a teacher, that is hard to do.  But God is all knowing and has created a special plan to fit the personal needs of each and every one of His children.  Can you imagine if a teacher knew that a child had a hard time learning math, yet she still expected that child to start out by learning trigonometry?  If a mortal teacher knows the importance of recognizing the differences of her students, how much better does our Lord know us and our individual frailties, strengths, and needs? 

          I believe that learning not to judge others is connected to learning how to walk in the love of God towards others, with mercy and grace.  The easiest part to understand is that we are never to pass judgment on who is going to Hell, and who is going to Heaven.  Since only God knows the heart of man, only He knows the point of no return in a person’s life, when he has hardened his heart into a heart of stone and has determined to reject any and all further calls of the Lord to return to Him.  This difference is readily demonstrated by the lives of the two thieves that hung on a cross beside Jesus.  Up to that point, both thieves had gone their own way, rejecting God and doing every evil work.  However, the one thief perceived that he deserved his punishment, but recognized that Jesus was sinless, and was being crucified even though He had done nothing wrong.  He recognized Jesus for who He was, and asked to be remembered when He came into His Kingdom.  Jesus immediately forgave the thief for his sinful life and promised him that he would be taken to Paradise with Him.  However, the other thief had hardened his own heart against God; he refused to recognize Jesus as the Son of God and Savior.  As a result of the choice he made, by his own free will, he rejected God’s plan for his salvation, and died in his sins, condemning himself to live in Hell, eternally separated from God. 

          It is true that we are not to judge one another.  However, and this is harder for me to understand, the exact role and responsibility each believer is to take in  the duty of judging sin within the church.  There is supposed to be an active system of judging the habitual and continued practice of sin, to rid the church of it before that sin spreads to others and contaminates and spoils the whole body.  In particular, if we read Corinthians, it expresses the proper procedure for disciplining one who is openly practicing sin (continuing to live in a way that he, and all others, knew to be contrary to the word of God).  In this particular case, a believer was found to be involved in the practice of the sin of incest. After every step had been taken according to correct church discipline, and yet the member still refused to confess his sin and turn away from it; the final and only option left to the church was to expel him from their midst.  This may look as if it is harsh and unreasonable punishment.  However, judgment of sin was not meant for his harm, but for his good.  It was hoped, realizing all he had lost; he might come to his senses and decide to repent, turn from his wicked ways.  If and when he sincerely repented, as exhibited not just in words, but also in deeds, he would be forgiven and reconciled in love.  It seems that the church today is refusing to obey and accept its responsibility to discipline and rid the church of the open practice of sin.  In acting so irresponsible, the church is contributing to the harm and fall of the individual and the destruction of the whole body of believers.  When Jesus comes to each person, He loves them even while they are willfully practicing sin.  Yet, He would not leave them in such a state.  He did confront their sin, but then if they were willing to be forgiven and change, He forgave them and told them to “go and sin no more.”  He did not forgive them and then just condone their sin and say “go and continue practicing sin just like you always did.”  The law is given unto us that we might know what sin is that we may choose to stay away from that which can only bring us harm.  The law is for our protection, not for our harm.  What parent in his right mind would teach his child to put his hand, or any part of his body, into the fire?  Of course no parent would do that.  The loving parent would teach his child the ‘laws’ of “Thou shalt not play with fire,” or “Thou shalt not cross the road before looking both ways.”  The ‘wages’ of rebelling against such laws is bodily harm or death through being burned alive, or by having your life taken by oncoming traffic.  Why is it that man can understand the ‘goodness of the law’ when the laws are of his own making, but will think nothing of questioning the ‘goodness of the law’ when it comes from the wisdom of the Lord?   Some will say of the Bible, who needs a book of rules that are restrictive, a bunch of do’s and don’ts?  Man’s reasoning just doesn’t make much sense sometimes.  God, in His infinite wisdom and knowledge, gives us his full book of instructions and plan of salvation for our life, now and eternally.   Out of His great love for us, He warns us against all the different kinds of ‘fire’ to avoid.  What do we do?  We begin to doubt and question Him, as if He couldn’t possibly know all that was right and wrong, or that which was meant for our best.  Surely, we begin to think, I am more capable of deciding what is best for my self.  In the end, my question is, does “judge not lest ye be judged” also mean that we are not to be rebuked, corrected, given instruction, or confronted concerning sin in our life?  I can answer that for myself.  Lord, direct my paths.  If you choose to send me rebuke through a friend, let me receive it as a precious oil upon my head, that I might turn from any wickedness and be saved from the consequences of my own rebelliousness or lack of knowledge.  No one enjoys discipline when it is delivered, but the wise man who receives it, will become even wiser. (Proverbs)  True and profitable discipline is delivered in love.  Though it may sting for the moment, once received and understood, it is profitable and good for the receiver of it.  All are going to sin, and need forgiveness for doing so.  However, when one refuses to repent and turn from sin, but chooses to continue in the practicing of that sin, he is hardening his heart against God and contributing to his own demise. 

          The love nature and just nature of God can not be separated, for God can not deny Himself; God does not lie.  He says what He means, and means what He says.   If man, by his own free will, chooses to forget God and the truth of His word, then he will suffer the consequences of that choice, and will be subjected to the judgment and wrath of God.  That is not God’s will for him, but the consequences of putting his own will before the will of God.  God’s law is just and true.  Jesus did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. (Matt. 5: 17) This is one principle of God that is true in the spiritual world as well as the secular world; “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”  He has told us that there are blessings and cursings, and each of us will receive one or the other in connection with the choices we make in life.  His judgments are not meant for our harm, but for our good.  When we stray from Him and His ways, His judgment is meant to cause us to wake up, turn away from our wicked ways, and turn our hearts back to Him that we may once again rest in the shadow of the protection of His almighty wings.

          It is the indwelling Holy Spirit that opens up our heart when we invite Jesus to come into our heart to be Lord and Savior.  It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to be willing to receive discipline and correction from the Lord, in recognition of His right to have authority over us.  When we receive correction, it is our responsibility to test the spirit, as God says.  No matter how or with what intention or motive discipline is delivered, if it is in line with the word of God, it should be received with gladness in our hearts.  Discipline or correction, once received, is meant not for punishment, but as an opportunity for us to learn and become wiser.

          I have to admit that I still struggle to understand the responsibility of the church in confronting and dealing with the individual believer, when the practice of sin is found to exist.  It’s obvious that the church does carry some responsibility to handle such situations before its existence spreads and poisons the whole body.  Can we not already see the consequences which have befallen the individual and the church when discipline is neither given nor received?  As the church allows the word to be compromised, the more comfortable it becomes to accept sin as being normal and even right.  Eventually that sin will be viewed as good, and no longer recognized as sin.   Once we let the practice of one sin become acceptable, it will open the door for other and far worse sins to walk right in the front door and set up house keeping.  The church becomes lazy and apathetic, no longer willing to do its own housekeeping, lest it be deemed as judgmental and intolerant.  When was the last time you heard of a church that was willing to take true responsibility for disciplining member(s) who were well known for practicing the sin of gossiping?  That may seem to be a minor thing, but it has been known to become so rampant until it causes division which has then led to the destruction of the unity of the church. 

          I have seen first hand the destruction of a church because the leadership refused to take measures to deal with sin in its midst.  There was a priest within a church; he was greatly loved and admired by many.  However, he was secretly involved in the practice of a horrible and destructive sin.  He was made headmaster of a wonderful Christian church school, even though there was first hand knowledge among the leadership of the church that the priest was molesting young boys.  Out of fear of the destruction that might be brought to the school and church, detrimentally affecting its financial status and reputation, they chose to ignore it rather than deal with it.  The priest was never confronted or ‘judged’ of his sin, enabling his sin to enslave him more and more.  Because he was never confronted with his sin, neither was he brought to the point of confessing his own sin, or to the point of recognizing that he needed help.  As a result, his sin grew bolder still, and he was allowed to hurt and destroy the lives of many more young boys.  How many lives were destroyed over the years may never be known.  The church leadership never did deal with it.  Instead, it was his wife who discovered mounds of horrible pornography hidden in the house.  This eventually led to the disclosure of his practice of pedophilia perpetrated by him even upon his own children.  After learning this, with heartbreak unimaginable, she reported him to the police.  The church that will not discipline for the seemingly small sin will also fail to discipline for the larger sin, allowing total corruption of the whole body to take place.  This subject in itself is so relevant to the condition of not just one or two churches, but to what is happening in the whole body of Christ.  We are truly becoming that body that “has the appearance of godliness, but lacking the power thereof.”  I have only scratched the surface of the sickness that is growing within.  No wonder the Lord will one day look upon so many within the body today and say “I knew you not,” and spew us out of His mouth.  A little bit of leaven does spoil the whole loaf.  

          There is one path to take for the renewal of the individual, and the church as a whole, that is always acceptable in the eyes of the Lord.  It is all too often marginalized and thought of as insignificant and a last resort measure.  This significant solution is found in four words, and in at least one action to accompany those words: “Trust in the Lord” and “Pray without ceasing.”  Again, this too can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes we don’t even know what to pray, but He does.  “The word of God does not go out and return void, but accomplishes that which it was sent to do.” Unfortunately today, instead of making a true commitment to pray, it has become more popular and acceptable to say we will send out positive thoughts, as if that were more effective.  Our thoughts may go out as sweet little daisies, but just as quickly as the daisy fades and withers away, so do our words which express those positive thoughts.  Unless thoughts and words are subject to the will of God first, and lifted up in prayer to the Lord of Lords, they are vain mutterings with no eternal value.  Until the Holy Spirit has touched one’s heart to understand the value and power of prayer unto the Lord, it is deemed by many to be insignificant and a waste of time.  Too often, we are heard to say: “All I can do is pray,” as if praying was a weak and ineffectual thing to do.  The word of God says that “the prayers of a righteous man availeth much.”  Prayer is the first thing that we should do, not the last.  The word of the Lord tells us that we have not, because we ask not, or because we ask amiss (wrongly). The Lord tells us to bring all of our cares and supplications unto Him.  Was it not the practice of Jesus to draw away from others to commune often with His Heavenly Father? Did He not say that He does only that which His Father showed and told Him to do?  As believers, we must understand that prayer is a significant part of our obedience unto God; it is our responsibility to turn our hearts to Him for guidance. Our actions, words, and deeds are to be subjected to the will of the Lord that our ways may be directed by the Lord. 

          There is a word of caution that I believe is important for all believers to hear and heed.  Because one believer may be more mature in faith and further along in his personal journey with the Lord, is no cause to get puffed up in pride and assume that one is a better or more superior Christian than another.  Whatever level of understanding one may have of the Lord and His wisdom, is exactly that – His wisdom.  It is not of our own making, but rather that which we have received from the Lord.  The greater responsibility to walk in love with discernment does lie with the more mature one, for “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

           In many ways, the more mature one carries a greater need and responsibility   to pray.  One of the costs of a true commitment to serve the Lord is that it can and often does bring ridicule and persecution into one’s life.  Jesus told us as He was hated and persecuted, so would we.  He said that belief in His name would set one brother against another, if one was a believer and the other was not.  That’s part of what it means to ‘count the cost,’ in other words, know what to expect as a believer.  We must understand however that following the Lord brings far more rewards than being a pleaser of mankind can ever bring.  What good does it do to receive all the adulation and rewards of this earthly world, if you lose your soul, spirit and any hope of eternal salvation to come? Walking in true love and obedience unto the Lord, while others may ridicule, disparage, and even persecute you for your faith, is not an easy thing to do.  One must necessarily pray without ceasing not only for others, but also for your self, in order to be equipped to withstand the fiery darts of the enemy.  The deeper your walk with the Lord is, the more the world is not going to like you, and the more you will come under the fire of the enemy.  Being a faithful prayer warrior and interceding on behalf of another is not always as easy as it looks.  In some ways, it’s a bit like teaching.  A teacher tries her best to impart knowledge to her students.  If she is a godly teacher, she will also do her best to impart the wisdom and knowledge of God through whatever means is opened to her to do so.  However, teaching does not always carry with it immediate evidence of success or rewarding feedback.  Sometimes it can be a rather thankless job, for the recipient of your efforts does not always appreciate your efforts.  Many times you may have cause to feel just like Jeremiah.  Time and time again, he was sent forth to tell the people “Thus saith the Lord.”  He was forewarned that, for the most part, the people will refuse to hear, and they will choose to go their own way no matter what he tells them that God has said.  No wonder he is called the “weeping” prophet.  Yet, though the rewards were few and far between, and for the most part, the people rejected God and His word, still Jeremiah was determined to persevere and be obedient unto the Lord.  His reward had to come from the knowledge that his success was based on his obedience unto the Lord, not on the response of the people.  So it is with being a prayer warrior, for it requires a lot of patience and steadfastness to persevere, though the evidence of successfulness of your prayers may be little and a long time coming.  Words of encouragement to continue may be rare.  One must constantly remember to trust in the Lord and the power of His word.  Nothing can be done apart from the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit; “not by might and not by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord.”

          I’m sure that this is not the end of this story.  The journey is a life long process of learning and maturing in the Lord.  It is also an acknowledgment of the fact that God is not finished with any of us as long as we are still living in these mortal bodies.  God is forever broadening the sphere of influence He has in our lives, as we are willing to yield our will more and more to His will.  Even that is not of one’s own doing.  For it is God’s work done within the heart of each believer as He gives unto us the will not to do that which is pleasing unto ourselves, but the will to do that which is pleasing in the sight of God.   If we are open to Him, it is His delight to write his word on the tablets of our hearts, making our lives an open epistle to others, created and written, not by ourselves, but by the hand of God.  He is shaping and molding us even when we are not consciously aware of it.

          As we mature in the Lord, it becomes normal to give praise, glory and honor unto the Lord for things both great and small.  It becomes normal to want to draw nearer to the Lord, desiring to spend more time with the Lord and delight in His presence.  He wants to be our closest friend in whom we can confide every minute of the day.  Life is celebrated as a gift from God, but the things of this temporary earthly life become less important, while the things of the Spirit and our future eternal life become more valued and real to us. We begin to gain a greater comprehension of the value of the gift of faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11: 1)  We must pray, believing that one day the living Holy Spirit will become so alive and real within each believer, enabling us to comprehend, at least in part, that when Jesus ascended into Heaven, He sent the Comforter to live within each believer, to be our personal teacher, guide, and so much more.  As He promised, He will never leave nor forsake us, and He will give unto each the power to be a doer of the word and not just a hearer of the word.

           Holy Spirit, may you give unto every believer a hungering and thirsting to know and receive the truth of the One True and Living God. Broaden the boundaries of our hearts and empower us to become less of ourselves and more and more of Thee.  None of us can comprehend completely how great our God is; He is greater, mightier, and more powerful than we can ever imagine. He is not limited by time or space as we are.  He is The Great I Am, who was, is, and always will be.  He can and does care and know all about us.  We can know Him more and more because of His Holy Spirit who lives within every born again believer.  He loves us, and loves for us to choose to spend time with Him.  He already knows every thought we have ever had, have, or will have.  Yet, He loves for us to come to Him, to bring all of our cares to Him, and to come into His presence that we might know Him better and better.  He wants us to draw near to Him that He may draw nearer still to us.  He will be all that we want Him to be, and even more.

            When feeling down, depressed, and frustrated in the trials of life there is but one answer, and that is to change your focus away from the problem and towards the Lord, who is more than able to help you and me through each stormy sea to reach the other side.  “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me praise His Holy name!”  With God, nothing is impossible.  This does not mean that if you just think positive thoughts that all your problems are just going to take flight.  No amount of positive thinking can deliver you from the trials and problems of life, for they are still merely thoughts, and trials and problems are a natural part of this fallen world.  God is real even when you are walking through the valleys and storms of life. He is there through His word and His Spirit within you, to be your Comforter, friend, and guide, to help you stand and endure to the end.  Our purpose in life, while we have our being, is to glorify God, the Giver of Life!  Worship and serve the Lord in spirit and in truth.  Praise His Holy Name!

          In a world where chaos and wickedness does abound, it is only through choosing to put our trust in the Lord that we can stand and endure to the end.  He has overcome the world, and in Him we too have the victory over sin and death.  Let us not cease to pray for one another, our nation and the world.  Let us not grow weak, but be strong in the Lord.  Let us humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, and pray that all will turn their hearts back to the Lord before it is too late.   Popular or not, acceptable to man or not, may we never cease to Praise the Lord, and Thank Jesus, forever and ever!  And may we never cease to seek His guidance for the wisdom to speak truth and when to keep silent.  Let each of us determine, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to pray, love, forgive, forgive, and forgive.  When we feel discouraged as we see the chaos and wickedness of the world and the destruction caused by the fiery darts of the enemy, let us take heart and remember the words of the Psalmist, that we may not grow weary, but remain strong in the Lord, to keep on keeping on that we may stand and endure to the end.  “Why art thou downcast, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?  Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”(Psalm 42: 11)

          Let us never put our trust and belief in anything that is said by any man, no matter what his stature, position or reputation may be in the eyes of man.  Always make sure that your beliefs and opinions are based solidly upon that sure rock of the word of God.  Be rooted and grounded in the truth of the word of God, that you may not be deceived by your flesh, the world, or the powers and principalities of the darkness of this world (Satan and his followers).

            **Beware of Intellectual idolatry: 
(Col. 2:8)  “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”
Paul is not condemning philosophy.  Rather, he is condemning any teaching that gives credit to humanity rather than to Christ, who alone is the answer to life’s problems.  Christianity is not based on blind faith.  Be directed to real truth, (not the truth as asserted by man), through the use of your mind in studying God’s word and keeping your eyes on Christ.  Intellectual idolatry is a sin for it promotes the superiority of man's opinion and powers of reasoning over the truth of the word of God.  Knowledge, apart from God, can be dangerous in that it does not always lead you to truth. Satan and his demons will use worldly knowledge to lead you to a lie.  Worldly knowledge can be so puffed up with pride that it only leads to more lies.

The following are scriptures that were significant in my study and research:

 Romans 3:  3, 4

“For what if some did not believe?  Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?  God forbid: yea, let God be true, and every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.”

I Corinthians. 4: 4, 5, 7

“For I know nothing by myself; yet am I hereby not justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”

“For who maketh thee to differ from another?  And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”

Philippians. 2: 13

“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

Philippians. 1: 6

“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Romans 3: 22, 23

“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon them that believe: for there is not difference: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God: Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  

Romans 10: 17

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Ephesians 2: 8 – 10

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: It is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

Acts 4: 10 – 12

“Be it known unto you all…., that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doeth this man stand before you whole.  This is the stone which was set at naught of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.  Neither is there salvation in any other name under heaven given among men, whereby you must be saved.”

Matt. 7: 21 - 23

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?  and in thy name cast out devils?  and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

Romans 10: 9

“And if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Psalm 141: 5

“Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer shall be in their calamities.”  (Choosing to make criticism productive rather than destructive, no matter how it was originally intended.) 


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