The Thief Cometh (Part 1 of 2)

Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. Matthew 27:38

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Two thieves. God’s ways are perfect. And His perfection was certainly on display in the concluding scene of Jesus’ death on earth. Why two thieves? Because these two thieves are symbolic of the primal conflict of our life on earth. The scene of Jesus’ crucifixion, and the reaction of those witnessing it, encompass the totality of humanity’s condition as it responds to God’s two most profound and juxtaposing attributes – His mercy and His judgment.

Before we launch into this some background is needed on two subjects of great importance in our lives – faith and hope. If you hold on this will eventually all come together. Let’s take a look.

The First Thief Originated In Heaven

Heaven and not earth was the original source of thievery. It began eons ago with God’s most beautiful and wonderfully created archangel, Lucifer. Lucifer was the original thief. What was it that he wanted to steal? One thing, and the same thing he desires to steal todayGod’s glory. Lucifer saw something extraordinarily captivating in witnessing the angelic hosts, of whom he was chief, glorify and magnify the God of Creation. It has been said that one of the most spectacular light shows in Creation was on display when the illuminance of God’s glory passed through the precious stones and gems embedded in Lucifer’s breastplate (Eze 28:13). And he wanted the glory all for himself:

For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the highest.  Isaiah 14:13-14

As he also does today. He attempted to overthrow God’s Heavenly kingdom by usurping the glory designed for God to be directed towards himself by deceiving one-third of the angels in the process:

And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. Revelation 12:4 

This leads us to its relevance for us today – your faith.

Your Faith Is In the Crosshairs

Lucifer was the original thief, and now as Satan, continues his mission to rob God. But he has a problem robbing God directly since he lost his former position in Heaven. Being the resourceful and shrewd being that he is he has made adjustments. He now robs God indirectly by directly robbing what belongs to God – His people. What does he attempt to rob from God’s people? The source of God’s glory on earth – your faith because your faith gives glory to God. This statement simply cannot be underestimated (remember glory was the very thing Lucifer wanted in Heaven):

He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; Romans 4:20

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it is tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 1 Peter 1:7 KJV

Which faith was examined by testing to be approved, that approval being much more precious than the approval of gold which perishes, even though that gold be approved by fire-testing, may be discovered after scrutiny to result in praise and glory and honor at the time of the revelation of Jesus Christ; Wuest

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Satan relishes in every successful attempt to derail or neutralize the faith you possess in Jesus. The thief is out to rob your glory-producing faith in God, indirectly robbing God of the glory due to his name. Faith is powerful. Faith has immense value on earth and in Heaven (I Pet 1:7). Your faith is valuable to you and your faith is valuable to God. At least Satan thinks it is.

It is no coincidence that the one description Jesus used to describe Satan’s work was that of a thief:

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. Mark 11:17

And the believer is admonished to be on the lookout for thieves and faith-robbers:

And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Luke 12:39

And Then There Is Faith’s Other Twin – Hope

The one thing in your life that will give glory to God like nothing else is to activate hope in God amid impossible situations. Faith shines in its finest hour when you ignite hope in God while in the middle of the impossible. In his most horrendous hour, faithlessness was not Job’s problem. Job’s faith was unwavering during his trial (Job 2:3, 27:5). Job did not lose faith in God. Job lost the God of his faith in the darkness! This always results in one thing – hopelessness. Hopelessness was Job’s problem (Job 6:11, 7:6, 14:7 & 10). Job lost hope amid his impossible condition because he lost sight of God. He could not see the promises of restoration or the light of deliverance while wallowing in the despair of his surroundings. Surely you have heard the saying: “You get so busy in the work of the Lord that you forget about the Lord of the work”. Job’s example shows us something – one can have faith and lack hope, but one with hope will always have faith standing nearby.

It is only when God is removed from the hope equation that uncontrollable situations and circumstances in life can give rise to hopelessness. Therefore, we must never lose faith. It is said that the voice of “doubt” says “I can’t believe”. And the voice of unbelief says “I will not believe”. As long as a trace of belief is alive, the miraculous can still happen. At least Jesus things so (Mar 9:23; Joh 3:16, 185:24,11:26, 14:12).

If Satan cannot destroy your faith, he will attempt to take you down through the byproduct of shipwrecked faith – hopelessness. Satan’s second tactic is to destroy your hope while facing your impossible situation. The only way out of hopelessness is to call out to God in faith that He will intervene and speak direction into our hearts. God did it for Job (Job 38:1), Peter (Mar 16:6-7; Joh 21:15-18), and the apostle Paul (Act 27:23-24). And he can do it for you.

Hope is the byproduct of experience distilled from life’s struggles (circumstances & situations) (Rom 5:3-4) while still trusting and hopeful that God has everything under control (Rom 8:28).

Can this explain why hope is a prevalent theme in The Book of Job? Of all the books in the O.T., The Book of Job ranks #2 with 15 references to “hope”. The only book with more references to the word hope is The Book of Psalms with 22 references, which has over twice the number of words and verses as Job. This gives us a good idea of the importance hope played in Job’s life and God’s intentions in communicating the subject.

In the N.T., the word hope is the Greek word “ἐλπίζω” (elpizō) and is oftentimes also translated as the word “trust”. It is interesting that Jesus only spoke the word hope (ἐλπίζω) 2x (Luk 6:34; Joh 5:45) and its near cousin, the word, trust, 2x. And when he did use the four words, it always referenced trust or hope in things outside of himself (armor Luk 11:22; Moses Joh 5:45; riches Mar 10:24, Luk 16:11). Yet, Jesus spoke the word “faith” 26 times!

Hopelessness is the soul’s death knell. Hopelessness is literally Satan’s killer app. But there is yet hope in hopelessness. Oh, yes there is because we serve the God who knows all things and is greater than the pain, confusion, uncertainty, and doubt swirling within a heart troubled by hopelessness:

Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. Romans 4:18

Who, being beyond hope, upon the basis of hope believed, in order that he might become father of many nations, according to that which has been spoken with finality, In this manner will your offspring be. (Wuest)

When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!” The Message Bible

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 1 John 3:20

The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all. Psalms 103:19

Make note of those last two verses. God, not the devil. rules heaven and earth. And only God KNOWS ALL THINGS! Satan may challenge God’s kingdom, but the Kingdom of God will never be defeated. The very gates of hell cannot contend with the angelic protection Jesus empowers his church with. You are not in this fight alone. You have God, two-thirds of the angelic host in Heaven, and the Church on earth on your side!

Hope is born by believing in the fulfillment of a distant promise that presently seems impossible, but because of an inner belief that irrespective of circumstances, faith that God can intervene is enough to turn around and give HOPE within those circumstances.

As another writer put it: ” biblical hope is a reality and not a feeling” (https:// www.gotquestions.org/Bible-hope.html). Activating a dogged determination to believe and have faith that GOD IS, is able in itself to restore hope. It’s that simple. Just believe that regardless of the situation that dictates otherwise, GOD IS STILL ABLE because HE IS GOD!

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Hebrews 11:6

There are some peculiar things about hope worth mentioning. Faith is both a spiritual gift and a spiritual fruit (I Cor 12:9 & Gal 5:22). Hope is neither. Another interesting aspect of hope is – you either have it or you do not have it. Hope manifests itself as a binary phenomenon and is unlike faith, which can occur in degrees (little faith (Mat 16:8), great faith (Luk 7:9) and no faith (unbelief (Mar 16:14)). Another uncanny attribute about hope is it can be stripped from our lives and rendered ineffective (Eze 37:11; Acts 27:20; Eph 2:12 & I The 4:13). And God can and will allow it to happen. Why? Because hopelessness demands a call for supernatural faith to intervene and revive hope in our lives.

One spark of faith in God’s promises (through the light of His word) is more powerful than what the forces of darkness can unleash upon your soul. A light of hope in God is more powerful than all the weapons of Satan’s darkness. The word of God is a Laser-Saber. Weaponize the word of God in your life and it will repel the spiritual darkness commissioned to destroy you, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your world. As you know, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God! (Rom 10:17)

In Conclusion

To recap, we discussed the following:

  • The original thief was the archangel, Lucifer in Heaven and he attempted to rob the Lord of glory, the glory He alone is worthy of.
  • Your faith gives glory to God and His glory is very important to Him.
  • Satanic attack is always meant to directly demean God and bring accusation to His Being. Remember, Satan’s #1 motive was for Job to blaspheme God. It was not about Job, it was ultimately about the Lord (Job 1:11 & 2:5).
  • Satan indirectly attacks God by directly attacking a source of His glory, which is your faith.
  •  Hope and faith (and love) are inextricably linked to each another. We are saved by hope (Rom 8:24). And one can have faith and not have hope (Acts 27:20). But one with hope will always have faith.
  • God can willfully take hope away from your life to refine your faith and take it to a higher level. The result is always greater blessings, clearer revelation, purer faith, and deeper hope. The process does not necessarily make us greater, but it always makes God grander.

In the next and final installment on this subject, we will look into two diametrically opposed attributes of God’s nature – His mercy and judgment and how the two thieves next to Jesus on the cross synthesize at that moment in time humanity’s two possible responses when faced with the most astounding substance God ever created- His own blood. Stay tuned!

Almost


Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. Acts 26:28

Almost (ôlˌmōst) adverb Dfn.: not quite, very nearly. OE – ‘for the most part’. Source: New Oxford American Dictionary

Almost. Almost home. Almost finished. Almost made it. Almost Heaven. The word almost may be the one word of all words to avoid in life. It doesn’t mean we didn’t try or failed to start. It just means we didn’t quite ‘for the most part’ finish the job. Almost.

The word is not a part of Heaven’s vocabulary. There are no ‘almost’s’ in Heaven. But, there very well may be a lot of ‘almost’s’ in Hell. Yes, Hell. Jesus talked more about it than we’d like to admit.

God’s people (as recorded in the Old Testament) understood the word quite well. In fact, they patterned their ‘religious’ life around ‘almost’. They built worship centers around Israel in homage to its false promises:

Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.

And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan. I Kings 12:28-30

No need to travel all the way to Jerusalem, waste time, endure discomfort, exhaust funds and resources. Just reaching the city named ‘Almost’ is just as good as making it to Jerusalem.

Almost will be just fine. God “knows our heart”. Just going through the ritual is enough. Check the box, stamp the paper, punch the ticket or scan the barcode and we are good. Almost. No need to attend church, pray, make financial commitments, sacrifice needlessly, deal with unrepented sins, selflessly serve others, stand for sound doctrine or be embarrassed and stigmatized as being called one of those ‘Jesus’ people.

Almost speaks of compromise, lack of zeal, lukewarmness, dispassion and indifference. When total commitment is not our first choice, almost is an acceptable option.

Oh, Jesus, help us to not settle for anything less than your very best:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:1-2

There are many notable ‘almost’s’ in this life. Here are a few:

Two brothers sold their business for $2.7M in the 1950’s. Today the business generates over $5.9B in sales annually. Who were they? Richard & Maurice McDonald the original owners of the first McDonalds fast food restaurant.

Today he would be worth $95B. Instead he sold 10% of his share of the company for $800.00 after just 12 days as the number three man. What was the company? Apple

In 2010 Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga had pitched a perfect game with one final batter to face with two outs in the 9th inning. The last batter was called safe at first on a clearly misjudged ground ball call by the first base umpire. It has been named the ‘Almost Perfect’ baseball game.

Professional golfer Scott Hoch in the 1989 Masters Tournament was 2 putts away from wining the championship. His first putt brought him closer to the prize. How far away was the ball from the cup? Two feet. He missed his on second putt attempt.

Just One More Step

She was seriously ill and had been for over twelve years. Neither the doctors or the money spent on medicinal herbal remedies could solve her dilemma, a non-curable blood disease. But, then she heard about a peculiar man named Jesus who was reported to be healing people like her of even worst ailments, even raising the dead!

And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, Mark 5:25-26

If he could do that surely he could handle her problem. She heard he was nearby. She had nothing to loose and determined not to live any longer in an almost situation. All she needed was to take one more step closer to her needed miracle:

When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. Mark 5:27-28

And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague. Mark 5:34  

There was an Internet video posted today about a woman on the state of Alabama’s Ten-Most wanted list. She was a drug addict and chained to a lifestyle of criminal activity to support her habit. After being incarcerated many, many times she hit rock-bottom and prayed to God that He would deliver her from the drugs. That simple prayer of repentance forever changed her life. God answered her in that prison cell and took the desire away. She lost the desire from that moment on and never looked back.

If that is not amazing, this is not the end of the story. Many years later she recognized someone on Facebook who was in need of a kidney transplant. The man was a now retired former police officer who arrested her many times during her life of crime and drugs. The Lord spoke to her and said she had the kidney he needed. After contacting the man and having compatibility tests run, her kidney was a perfect match and became his organ donor source.

Just One Prayer Away

You could be one prayer away from your needed miracle. One prayer away from receiving Heaven’s long awaited answer. One small step of faith short of seeing God walk through the door and forever change everything.

You are one prayer away of turning an ‘almost’ situation into an ‘absolute’ situation.

By God’s grace I will keep praying that prayer. Will you?

The Contender – A Celebration of Our Freedom

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26

Crown – dfn. a reward of victory or mark of honor especially : the title representing the championship in a sport; a royal or imperial headdress or cap of sovereignty : diadem; imperial or regal power : sovereignty. (Source: Merriam-Webster)

Today is the Fourth of July. Known as “Independence Day’, today we as a nation set aside time to remember and celebrate freedom and liberty. On July 4, 1776 the 13 American colonies officially declared freedom from England’s rule and separation from Britain’s Crown, a freedom which eventually led to the formation of the United States of America.

Crowns signify honor, power, sovereignty, dominion and victory. On this Independence Day we are not only remembering the fight to cast off a political crown leading to freedom, but also the spiritual fight over the conquering of another crown – Death’s Crown and freedom to receive a Crown of Life. Let’s take a look.

The Ring & The Fight

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:21

The fight originated long ago. It was a fight destined before time began between the two contenders (Gen 3:15). In one corner was the champion. He held the title and wore the victor’s crown – The Crown of Death. His earthly name is satan (Job 1:6-9 & Rev 12:9) and his heavenly name was Lucifer (Is 14:12). It was not planned to happen this way. But, because of deceptive and unscrupulous tactics (Gen 3:1-5), he stole the title away from the intended victors of life (Gen 2:7-8, 2:15 & 2:22-25). This fighter carried with him the baggage of a bad reputation (Is 14:13-14) and was known as a ‘dirty player’.

In the other corner was a fighter of a totally different caliber, demeanor and composure. In fact, he looked like no contender for any crown at all (Is 52:14 & 53:2-3). His name was Jesus the son of a carpenter (Mat 13:55 & Mk 6:3). The reigning champion in fact thought it most humorous that such a contender would even dare him and bring him to this level of humiliation. He jeered, he laughed, he mocked and he cajoled at the prospect of being challenged, much less defeated, by such an embarrassment. But, he did not realize who he was dealing with (Is 7:14 & Lk 1:30-33). And he would soon find out.

Round One

And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
Matthew 27:29

The opening bell rang, its shrill reverberating throughout both time and Eternity. The fight began. Out of one corner of the ring one contender emerged with vengeance. His blood burned, his countenance fumed like a dragon (Rev 12:3, 4 & 7) and the corner of his lip dripped with saliva fueled by lust, greed and flesh-like ambition (Mat 4:1-9). In his mind he relished the thoughts:

“This is one fight the world will never forget. This fight will go down in history as MY fight – The Fight of the Ages. The day I finally put to rest the notion that I can be reasonably challenged or it even considered that I can loose my crown, my crown of dominion of life on earth. My victor’s crown of Sin & Death”.

However, something else happened at the opposite corner. Viewed from a distance, the scene was so extreme and macabre it appeared almost in slow motion. “What is going on?” the paying crowd thought. This other contender appeared to not want to fight at all as he walked towards the center of the ring with his fighting gloves down and fearlessly face the impending onslaught. It was as if he wanted to loose and hand his opportunity over without resistance (Joh 10:15, 17-18 & 15:13).

His opponent wasted no time. Pound. Jab. Pound. Pound. Jab. Jab. He did quick work. And it was almost over sooner than he expected, leaving behind a scene almost too horrendous to describe (Mar 15:19-20.

The Stretcher

The defeated opponent seemed barely able to stand upright in the ring. His body now weakened and frail. Seeing victory inevitable, the reigning champion decided to end this match with his most lethal tactic. It was the most painful and shameful weapon in his arsenal. It was what he called ‘The Stretcher’. The stretcher was brought out to carry away his challenger and end the contest (Mar 15:21-38), a contest seemingly not fair from the beginning (or at least the observers thought it was!). In fact, this final act caused the judge to observe something he had never before experienced in all his years working the ring – a fatal knockout. And after seeing what he just observed, he was not sure he wanted to see another one.

A Miraculous Comeback

News of the contest was abuzz and quickly made its way throughout the country (Luk 24:13-19). But, news of something else had captured the people’s attention. Sometime between carrying the contender to his grave and his body being ‘officially’ corrupted after being dead four days, it was reported he was walking around ……… Alive ! (Luk 24:36-41) It could not be. But. it was. He was alive (Rom 6:9).

When the reigning champion received news of his being raised back to life, it struck fear and terror in his spirit (Mat 8:29). His best effort, his most pointed assault failed to finish the work. He did not finish it, his opponent did (Joh 19:30).

Disqualification Leads To Exultation

In every war, in every battle and in every earthly conflict there are rules of engagement to be followed. There are governing bodies in our world that monitor war crimes and crimes against humanity. Why? Because even when humanity is faced with the possibility of annihilation, it intrinsically seeks preservation. It is a nature designed by God. A nature that seeks life, seeks hope and seeks truth. The Lord is running the ship in Heaven and in earth and not the enemy. Truth prevails and truth never fails (Deu 32:4, Ps 57:10, Ps 89:14, Ps 96:13, Ps 146:6, Jn 8:32, Jn 14:6 & Jn 17:17).

Because satan did not follow the rules of engagement (truth) he disqualified himself from the contest (Jn 8:44 & I Jn 2:21). The earthly judge’s decision was ultimately nullified and the crown stripped from the former champion.

The Crown of Death was removed from the Head of the Serpent, and in its place, the Crown of Victory was placed on the Head of the Savior (I Cor 15:54-57). Jesus now gives us freedom over death, wields the Crown of Eternal Life and graciously gives it to those love him (Jam 1:12 & Rev 2:10).

Crown Him. Crown Him. Crown Him King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. Revelation 6:2I

And I saw, and consider this, a white horse. And he who is seated upon it has a bow. And there was given to him a victor’s crown. And he came forth conquering and in order to conquer. (Wuest)

Happy Fourth of July!

Departures & Arrivals

For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; Philemon 1:15

God can take things or places departed for a season and turn them into reasons for the arrival of greater things or places.

Like the coin, lost sheep and lost son as recorded in Jesus’ parables in Luke chapter 15, reunion and discovery of something lost adds special value to that thing. Its value is now magnified. The coin, sheep and son never looked the same again to their owners. They were now deeply treasured because the heart, reflecting on the past trauma of separation, now joyously celebrates in the emotion of reunion:

It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. Luke 15:32

Let’s take a further look into this.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6

Arriving Gate 238 – Jerusalem Airlines

There is someone mentioned in the Word of God whose departure experience is worth calling to mind. He was the ‘big mouth’ of the bunch. Often rash, impulsive and borderline arrogant, he was fast to act and slow at thinking things through (Mat 16:22, Mk 8:32). He was the first to volunteer (Mat 14:28) and was always looking over his shoulder at the competition (Jn 21:20-21).

His name is Peter and he was in departure mode and had yet to arrive where the Lord destined him to be.

Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly. Mat 26:74-75

Peter needed to experience a diversion to arrive and take his place in the will God had for his life:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 2:38

While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. Act 10:44-45

Peter’s season of departure broke his will and caused him to arrive at his appointed destination as an influential leader of the early Apostolic church in the first century.

Departing Gate 123 – JetPerga

There is another individual mentioned in the Bible we also need to look at. This man’s life was yet another account of someone who experienced a season of departure, of falling short and failing in his calling. You can perceive this man as a spiritual lightweight or a wannabe missionary, but in the end he fumbled, stumbled, and departed while on the job.

Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John (surnamed Mark – Acts 12:25) departing from them returned to Jerusalem. Acts 13:13

His name is John Mark or Mark for short. Mark of all people. Why, he had a godly heritage (Acts 12:12), conversant with the inner circle of Jesus’ core group of disciples and had the golden opportunity to travel with God’s best. It was not enough. Could it have been Mark’s lack of perfected love (II Tim 1:7 – timidity) that caused the laser-focused Apostle Paul to not want him involved in any future missionary endeavors?:

And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. Acts 15:37-38

Mark experienced his own dilemma of departure. And what better arrival was Mark destined for? Right here;

The Gospel According to Mark.

Yes, you read that correctly. Mark. Mark penned a gospel account that would bear his name. After all his failures, his faults and his shortcomings, the Lord saw an unearthed gem buried somewhere is his spirit. What was it? It was a resolve to not quit and persevere after falling. Just the kind of people God is looking for today. Mark’s gospel account was written for the Roman world of his day, a world attracted to and highly influenced by one thing – power. Mark wrote extensively about the power of God and the miracles of Jesus.

There was another subject Mark wrote about that would have never occurred had he not experienced his season of departure. The areas he, Paul and Barnabas were evangelizing on Paul’s first missionary journey was a hotbed of demonic activity, spiritual oppression and taxing, rugged terrain. In fact, right after the encounter with Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:8), Mark looks for passage back to Jerusalem. Could that encounter have been the tipping point?

There is much speculation about why Mark does this. But, there could be evidence behind his actions by reading Mark’s gospel account. Mark mentions the dark spiritual underworld more that any other gospel writer. He mentions unclean spirits (4x), unclean spirit (6x), devils (12x), dumb spirit (1x), foul spirit (1x), anti-Christ (Ch. 13)  and includes an extensive account of the demoniac of the Gadarenes (Ch. 5). Whatever the cause,  Mark learned his spiritual warfare lesson well to go on, regroup and write about it for all the world to know.

Departing Gate 7 – Air Rome

The last departure we want to discuss is written in The Book of Philemon, an account of the saving grace of God for the runaway slave (Onesimus) of Philemon. Onesimus defrauded Philemon, departed his household and journeyed to Rome where he met the Apostle Paul. Paul works with him, and eventually, Onesimus becomes a born-again believer. The letter is Paul’s appeal for Onesimus’ restoration to his former position in Philemon’s household and the mending of the spiritual bond between the two men.

Because of Onesimus’ season of departure, the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus would never be the same after their reunion. The relationship would now be more valuable and profitable. Not only were they united in earthly terms, they could now be joined together with the heavenly. Because of Onesimus’ departure, he arrived at a much grander place. Their stormy departure for a season birthed a timeless bond for all eternity. As Paul writes:

For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; Philemon 1:15 KJV

Perhaps it was for this reason that he was separated from you for a while, so that you would have him back forever, (AMP)

For perhaps on this account he was parted for a brief time in order that you might be possessing him fully and forever, (Wuest)

Interestingly, the name Onesimus means ‘useful’ or ‘profitable’ in Greek and it took a detour for him to live true to his name.

In Conclusion

We have looked into the lives of three individuals whose spiritual trajectory was not always on target. In fact, they each completely missed the mark. We know that God is always true to His character. Among His many characteristics; his graciousness, longsuffering, patience, love, kindness, and mercy, He knows we are oftentimes frail, subject to error and resistant to being broken (Ps 103:14, Is 63:9 & Rev 21:4) and looks to use these to work His will through our lives. In each of the above cases, the Lord used a painful departure as their means to arrive at a better end.

And whatever God touches is never the same afterwards. Never. And since Jesus has firsthand experience in turning tables ‘upside down‘ (Mat 21:12, Mk 11:15 & Jn 2:15), he has no problem ‘turning around‘ 180 degrees the table the devil has placed in your life and bring what was ‘meant for evil’ for your good and for His glory.

What has departed in your life today? A lost loved one? Health? Finances? Shelter? Food? Peace? Faith? Hope? Love?

Be assured you are in the right place for God to come on the scene and cause the miracle you desperately need to arrive. It shall be done if you persistently believe and doubtlessly ask the right person:

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. John 15:7

Life’s hard departures are so designed to bring to light the arrival of God’s best.

Be Blessed In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Cross of Jesus Christ

The subject we will discuss is one, if not the most important one we must confront in life. This subject is inexhaustible, its weight immense and its power unlimited. One writer has this to say about it:

“There is not a person born or unborn, there is not a decision that anyone has made or will make that (this) does not stand a witness to and a judge of.”

What are we talking about? We are talking about the cross of Jesus Christ. As the great Apostle wrote:

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Galatians 6:14)

The Cross Is At The Center

“The cross stands at the center of everything”.

Earth would not be the same after 33 A.D. on the day Jesus Christ was crucified. The earth from that day forward would no longer spin on an axis spanning the North and South poles. The earth now spins on the axis of Calvary’s cross spanning the Heaven and the earth.

The natural human mind balks when confronted with what Jesus accomplished at Calvary. Our minds stop and resist the notion that Jesus defeated death, sin, hell and the grave. Why? Because of accountability. It is said that we are only accountable for what we know:

And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: (Acts 17:30)

We no longer have an excuse since Calvary. It is said that at the end of his life and facing death W. C. Fields was seen reading the Bible. Being  very out-of-character behavior for those who knew who him asked him why he was reading God’s word. His response was: “I’m looking for a loophole”.

There are no loopholes. But, there is a door available. The true light has arrived. We have hope. Calvary’s cross is as relevant today as it was over 2,000 years ago. The poignancy of Calvary’s love has not diminished through the wearing and grating effects of time and space. The voice of Calvary still speaks. Like the blood of Abel that cried from the earth (Gen 4:10), Jesus’ blood yet cries from earth’s dust:

“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”.

The sounds of Jesus’ sacrifice resound through time – the voice of love, the voice of mercy, the voice of grace and the voice of forgiveness:

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. Luke 23:34 

The cross is the only true escape from this fleshly cage of dust and bones.

The Tension

Several years ago in Bible school, a guest speaker who is a Pastor of a church in the state spoke in our class. His comments were noteworthy:

“Our world operates in tension. There is a constant tension going on in our lives that pull us between Heaven and earth”.

This continuous tension is the result of the pressure cooker of the struggles and strain between life and death, light and darkness, the Spirit of God and the flesh, righteousness and sin and between Heaven and earth.

In the midst of his trial Job could not see beyond his despair:

My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
Are not my days few? cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little,
Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death;
A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness. (Job 10:1, 20-22)

The cross of Jesus Christ is the only legitimate and certain bridge of truth to get us through the darkness. The Lord will test our mettle to see of what material it is. Since everyone is given “a measure of faith” (Rom 12:3), the Lord will test it to make it pure:

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: (1 Peter 1:7)

If we fail to grasp the salvation God makes available to us and the hope of the Gospel, we will succumb to what is termed “The Malady of America” which is defined by discontentment and ungratefulness. The Lord has the abundant life for us (John 10:10) to escape the dregs of this age.

The Cross’ Shadow

There is something special about someone who is a true cross bearer. Surely there are people you know or have known in your life who have left or leave lasting impressions in your spirit because of their commitment to godly and eternal matters. It is because of the cross they bear. Jesus instructs us to bear our “own cross” (Lk 14:27). For these individuals, Calvary casts a shadow wide and deep over their lives. It is unmistakable and cannot be faked or insincerely fabricated.

These people are the “real deal”. Why is this important? Because cross bearing is a true indicator of the depth and breadth of someone’s spiritual walk. How is this validated? Because the closer you are to Jesus the heavier your cross becomes. There is scripture to substantiate this claim.

All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) record the account of Simon the Cyrenian being “compelled” to carry Jesus’ cross. However, Luke’s account of Simon is different from the other two Gospels. Luke, being the detailed-oriented of the three, with his keen, scientific skills of observation coloring his writing  (he is the one who wrote in details more than Matthew or Mark) gives us one additional noteworthy tidbit of information:

And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. Luke 23:26

Luke lets us know that Simon was following right behind Jesus bearing his cross. Simon’s “cross” was literally Jesus’ cross. And Simon was closer to Jesus on his ascent to Golgotha than anyone else. You are never more close to Jesus than when you bear the weight of the salvation of souls upon your shoulders as Jesus leads them towards Calvary’s hill. This is true cross-bearing. This is true Christianity. This is what eternity demands.

Eternity In View

Eternity. Such a remote and distant concept that we cannot even begin to discern or comprehend it. But, a voice is speaking of its nearness. And the older one gets the louder the voice becomes. A Pastor recently spoke on the topic. His reasoning is that our walk of faith and the challenges looming on the horizon meant to extinguish it cannot survive without eternity in view. We must live life with eternity in the forefront of our minds.

Jesus spoke of an “outer darkness” three times (Mat 8:12, 22:13 & 25;30). Outer darkness is the second death, a place of eternal separation from God. I don’t want to go there. Either do you. This subject and the mention of Hell are not popular topics in today’s modern church age. Nonetheless, it is the Word of God.

Faith in the redemption found in the Cross of Jesus Christ and God’s expression of love at Calvary are able to preserve you and keep you from the judgment of God against the sin of this world to come (I Peter 4:17-18).

The cross of Jesus proves to us God’s great investment in and compassion for souls. The cross calls for the total surrender and commitment of our lives to him.

“Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow”. Jesus Paid It All by Elvina Hall

Jesus has paid it all friend. Be Blessed!

Heart Hacked – For Good Part II

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 2 Peter 1:19

I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. Revelation 22:16

In the previous post we looked at the heart being “hacked” by darkness, let’s move along and look at the flip-side of this heart equation and investigate a heart being hacked by good and pick up where we left off.

The Heart – Ground Zero

God’s word illuminates the role our heart plays in guiding and directing our life. The human heart rests at ground zero as it forms the bedrock of our being. Within its spiritual chambers emanate our thoughts, formulates the words we speak and sits at the neural switchboard orchestrating  our thought patterns and resultant actions.

God’s word emphasizes the importance our heart plays in our life:

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23 

The word “issues” used here is the Hebrew word –  תֹּצָאָה: exit, that is, (geographical) boundary, or (figuratively) deliverance, borders, goings forth, outgoings. [Strongs]

In other words, if you ask yourself the question: “How far am I willing to go?” Your heart will give you your answer. The heart determines the ‘length, breath, depth and height’ we will ascribe to a certain thing in life.

We are composed of body, soul and spirit. The soul is made up of our mind, will and emotions. Using a ship as an analogy, the hull and rudder is our human will, the mind is the engine room with its turbines, and lastly, our heart (emotions, desires and motivations) contribute the diesel fuel.

The heart fuels the turbine engine to spin the blades of the mind to produce raw action (the manifestation of our human will). This should not come as a surprise. Jesus himself told us this:

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. Luke 6:45

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:21

A Hidden Backdoor

As mysterious as it is sounds we do not know our own heart. But, there is One that does:

The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, GOD, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be. (Jeremiah 17:9-10 The Message Bible)

The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. Psa 94:11
Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart. Psa. 44:21
Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah. Psa 62:8

A “backdoor” as defined by computer programmers is an intentionally coded entrance point to allow the program’s authors or designers to add, modify or delete code that runs the program. Or to take full control of the system hosting it.

Our human heart is comprised of a similar feature uniquely designed by our Creator:

He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

The Hebrew word “world” is עוֹלָם which according to Strong’s means: properly concealed, the vanishing point; time out of mind, eternity; ancient (time), continuance, eternal.

In essence, the Lord has implanted a cache of timelessness into every human heart. God has direct access to the thoughts, feelings and motivations emanating from within the ‘ground zero’ our our core being – the heart.

God in His sovereign wisdom placed a pocket of timelessness, the formation of an eternal connecting zone within the human heart. In doing so, He built into the human heart an access point, a place where He can visit at His will to perform His will.

There is scripture to substantiate this claim:

O LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee: 1 Chronicles 29:18

Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem: Ezra 7:27

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. Proverbs 21:1

Concerning Bezaleel in the construction of the Tabernacle ….

And he hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.
Them hath he filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work. Exodus 35:34-35

Hacked With Hope

This story cannot end without hope. Hope is sometimes the only thing separating one from total despair. In the cyber crime world hackers are the bandits, thieves and thugs whose intents are intentionally seeped in crumb-less paths of anonymity.

Not our God. God is good. He is faithful. God invests Himself in those who invest in Him. God is looking for people who are looking for Him! And so it is with putting our heart in His hands, He leaves something good behind. What is this? It is called hope.

God will not remove the bad things out of our heart that He will not also replace with something better. God will hack your heart with hope if you let him.

The Lord hacks hearts and leaves crumbs of hope behind. Jesus exits the heart-world with something behind more grandeur in scope. He gives us a new heart.

The master awaits at the backdoor of our heart:

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

God’s Spirit touches places in the soul where only God has access:

Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart. Psa 44:21

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 1Jn 3:20 

The Final Chapter: After God’s Own Heart

But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee. 1Sa 13:14 

And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will. Acts 13:22 

Did you get the last part of that scripture? Fulfill ALL my will. That is perfect love. That is God’s heart. When you fulfill God’s perfect will, you will then be perfected by His love:

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8 

Spiritually prosperous are those who are pure in the sphere of the heart, because they themselves shall see God. (Wuest)

Something very special awaits the person who decides to seek after the heart of God. Such a place is sovereign territory, holy ground,  an intimate sanctuary. The Apostle John was such a person. He was the disciple mentioned in the Gospel’s as the one “whom Jesus loved”.

Astronomers estimate there are 100 billion galaxies in our universe and 1 billion trillion stars. And He knows all their names (Psalm 147:4). And you think He does not know yours?

The God of creation can freely have everything and anything He wants. He only has to speak it into existence and it appears. That is ……… except one thing. That one thing is your heart.

The one thing He desires most in His created realms and dominions is your undivided heart. Because God is a jealous God.

The God who is alone. No one who ever walked the face of this earth has ever experienced loneliness like the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Jesus did not die from blood loss. Jesus did not die from asphyxiation. Jesus died from a broken heart, a heart broken by our sin and shame:

Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonour: mine adversaries are all before thee.
Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. Psalm 69:19-20

The God of Creation revealed some of His own secrets and personal information in the writings of the law, the prophets and the psalms (Luke 24:44). What did he reveal? Among other things, He is meek, humble and vulnerable (Mat 11:29). Why? Because He is love.

Jesus Christ as a man defeated satan to defrock his pageantry, destroy his potency, disqualify his prominence and denounce his pomp. Why? To redeem you, a uniquely crafted being created in His image.

Of all the religions of the world, Christianity is the only one to make the declaration that the God it worships and bows before is Love. It is a paradox that this God who ‘is love’ never experienced what it was like to ‘be loved’. Until now. Now that Jesus Christ has come into the world.

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

Jesus refers to himself as the “bright and morning star” (Rev 22:16). It is no mystery that before orbiting satellites and GPS technology early navigation systems relied solely on the moon and stars for navigation. The stars were the pinpoints of reliable and unshakable references that mariners entrusted their lives and valuable cargo upon. Heaven’s guiding lights never faded, faltered or failed to provide the needed guidance when confronted with harrowing, ferocious storms:

Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name: Jeremiah 31:35

Another star has come to give light, life and love. Jesus, Heaven’s shining star, is our heart’s hope and light in a world overshadowed by gross darkness. Life is at its best when Jesus occupies the center. Let’s allow him in 2020 and beyond.

A New Heart for a New Year!

Be Blessed in 2020.

More Than A Feeling

If ye love me, keep my commandments. John 14:15

God’s word is a window into the very mind and heart of God. In fact, God magnifies His Word above His name (Ps 138:2). It is easy to allow the Word to take a backstage role in our lives. Why? It takes work and effort to search the scriptures and make them the centerpiece of our being. The Apostle John gives some insight into this thought:

And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. Revelation 10:9

On first inspection the word is sweet, enlightening and glorious. But upon digestion,  assimilation and prolonged residence in one’s life, it will be discomforting and contrary to the whims and the wild nature of the flesh. In short, the living Word of God does not always “feel good” in our lives.

Where are we going here? It is important to put feelings into their proper perspective.

Feelings are at best a catalyst for good, and at worst, ignorant and deceptive for the beginnings of error.

We live in a culture defined by the “touchy-feely”. Our society operates on-demand. Give it to me now. Not in 5 minutes, not in 5 seconds, put it in my hand or within my line of sight RIGHT NOW! Why? Because it feels good. And we like to “feel” good.

Unfortunately, this mindset has meandered and crept its way into our perceptions of love, specifically, God’s love. And this is our launching pad. God’s love has little to do with feelings. Let’s take a look into this.

God’s Love & God’s Word

According to the word of the Lord, God’s love IS ALWAYS in concert with obedience to God’s word. Sometimes love is convoluted with two feeling-based fruit of the Spirit; joy and peace. How does one know if they embrace joy or peace? You feel” it. How else can you define the presence of them? You feel and sense peace and you feel and sense joy.

But, God’s love, the Greek word ‘agape’, is not about feelings.

Agape love is more about actions and reactions to life than it’s about feelings in life. The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth devoted exclusively to love (agape) pinpoints this assertion:

Longsuffering, kindness, envy-less, selflessness, modest (vs. 4), gracious, humble, even tempered, innocent thinking (vs. 5), non-judgmental & God-seeking (vs. 6), trustworthy, faith-driven, confident, determined (vs. 7). I Corinthians Chapter 13

Where do you find feelings in this list of love characteristics? These spiritual graces are not produced by feelings. They come through persistent obedience and leading by God’s truth (Word) and Spirit. Jesus has much to say on this:

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. John 14:21

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings … John 14:23-24

The New Testament scriptures (KJV) translates the Greek word agapē (ἀγάπη)- sacrificial love, a love feast, as either the English words love or charity, 144x. Of those 144 scriptures, 53 verses include the word “faith” along with the word agapē. Faith cannot be separated from God’s love.

The world has perverted into a feeling what God originally intended to originate from faith. Belief in God’s Word:

Romans 10:17  So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

And faith is energized or made effective by love; through the Word of God:

Galatians 5:6  For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

Worketh: Greek ἐνεργέω (energeō) to be active, efficient: effectual, be mighty in. (Strongs)

“… but faith coming to effective expression through love”. (Wuest)

The analogy being: God-focused faith is the bullet, God’s love is the gunpowder.

The world’s formula for love is based on supply-demand marketing strategy. Love is projected as a fragile and fleeting consumable sustained with products and services.

This is not God’s design. Rather the truth is, God designed love to have its roots solely in Him, not as a consumable, but based on a condition. The condition being a heart in total and complete surrender in obedience to His word. What is the result? Knowing God for who He is. And who is He?

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. I John 4:7-8

God is love.

More Love, Less Control

The broadcast on the evening radio last week could not have been more timely. With these thoughts about love lingering and swirling around during the home commute, the preacher said:

The more in love you are with someone, the less control you have over your life“.

The minister went on to say he was just fine living the life of a bachelor. But, when this particular lady entered his life (now his wife), things began to change. He began to loose control over his life. To the point of total loss that he might gain faithful love.

More love, less control:

Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22:42-44

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:12-13

The more love, the less control.

God is love. It’s more than a feeling.

Be Blessed!