Not Good Enough to Talk to God

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t pray or help someone out spiritually because you’re not living as spiritually as you think you should?

I recently overheard a conversation where one person confessed that he doesn’t pray anymore because He isn’t as close to God as he used to be. He feels that God isn’t going to listen to him because he is not doing what he knows he should be doing.

You might think this is silly, but I can completely relate.

There are times in my life when I feel like I’m being a strong Christian. I’m reading my Bible daily, praying constantly, and fasting regularly. I’m doing everything a “good Christian” should do and avoiding any obvious sins. It’s in these times when things are going well that I feel closest to God. I feel like God and I are best buds. I talk to Him and He listens, because I’m being such a good little Christian.

But those times only seem to last a few months. Before long I end up going down the same road as before. I stop reading my Bible, stop praying, and fasting is way out. I start fighting temptations more often and I get argumentative with my wife for no reason or start spending money selfishly putting us further in debt.

During those times in my life I know I can’t help others spiritually. Why would anyone listen to a failure who can’t even follow God for more than a few months at a time without sliding back into a worldly routine? Praying will be pointless because there is no reason God should listen to me. People want help from those who have been in their situation and overcame it and God only listens to those who are following Him in everything. Right?

In those seasons where I feel spiritually strong I know God will, of course, listen to me. Need prayer? Come to me! I’ll help, because I’m close to God so He listens to me. Need spiritual advice? Come to me! Because I’m reading the Bible daily so I have special insights and can tell you exactly what to do.

Because I am awesome enough that I can draw close to God. It’s all about Me.

I’m a puny spotted sheep in a flock of other puny spotted sheep thinking that I have an inside relationship with the Shepard because for once in my life, I’m actually doing what I’m told.

How arrogant can I be?

In 2010, I was going through one of those spiritual valleys. During this time I felt overwhelmingly called to write for ETM again and to resurrect this ministry.

Immediately my response was to say “NO!” How could I possibly tell others they should follow God when I wasn’t even doing it?

That’s like someone telling me – an un-athletic, overweight, couch potato – to go play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche! I would quickly be found out to be a fraud and would do nothing but humiliate myself and the team.

In the same way, I can’t possibly represent God or help others when I’m in my spiritual couch-potato mode. If I wanted to play on the team then first I need to start an intensive training regimen.

Only after getting back into spiritual shape by reading my Bible daily and doing all of the things I know I should do, would I even be able to consider trying to help others or be used by God. Only then will I be strong enough to… to go help God? Because the creator of the Universe who has infinite power and wisdom, He, really needs me and my spiritual beefiness.

God didn’t call me to start a spiritual weight training routine, He called me to write. Not later, but right then.

When we are spiritually strong we tend to get prideful. Pretending it is our own ability that makes us close to God. We feel like we can lead others to follow God closer because “look at me, I did it!” We tell others how we are following God and encourage them to do the same things we do.

But this attitude is an offense to God. We have to realize that all of us are horrible sinners before God. None of us are good (Romans 3:10), all of our best works are nothing but filthy rags.

But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭64‬:‭6‬ NKJV)

Casting Crowns gave some good imagery for this verse in their new song “All You’ve Ever Wanted” they sing:

But all my deeds and my good name
Are just dirty rags that tear and strain
To cover all my guilty stains
That You already washed away

All of our good deeds are dirty before God. During those times when I’m feeling strong I’m really just dressing myself up in filthy, oily, blood soaked rags and acting like I’m wearing a tux. And then I approach God to show Him how amazing I look in my rags.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (‭Ephesians‬ ‭1‬:‭4-5‬ NLT)

The only reason I can ever be spiritually strong is because God gives me the ability to be. It isn’t about me taking spiritual steroids and weight lifting to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s about me, being a quadriplegic and being strong only because God is my Iron Man suit. It’s all about Him. I am nothing.

God wanted me to write for ETM, not because I was good and in a position to lead others, but because He wanted to use me. I was to write because He had things to teach me. I was to write because He wanted to speak to others through me.

It’s all about God. Our works don’t make us a better Christian, only God does that.

When you are in a spiritual slump, don’t stop yourself from praying. That’s when you need to pray the most and when you are the most honest with God. A prideful and arrogant heart that thinks it deserves God’s respect is in fact disgusting to God, while a humble heart that recognizes it’s need for God brings Him honor.

A man’s pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭29‬:‭23‬ NKJV)

It’s never about us and our ability to follow. It’s all about God.

Have you ever used the excuse that you are not spiritually strong enough to avoid doing what God is leading you to do?

My Apology to you, lessons from Jonah

Over the past several months God has put a lot of messages on my heart to write about and share on ETM.

But sadly, I have been too busy or distracted to write them. I mean, it’s not really a big deal, right? All I was putting off was writing on a simple website – a blog – not anything “real”. Part of why I felt that was was due to a few comments I received about this site, saying that by writing for a website I am just fooling myself into thinking that I’m doing something for God and the church, while in reality I’m just wasting my time that should be used to do something “real” with actual people.

Sadly I let those words of discouragement affect me for way too long, evidenced by the fact that I have only written a single article since hearing them.

This week God used an extremely long and boring drive through Nebraska (twice) to teach me something. With nothing else to entertain me for 18 + hours in the car, I turned to podcast sermons from a few churches that I really like. A few of those messages were by Pastor Lance Ralston, from Calvary Chapel of Oxnard.

The passage covered was a story I have heard numerous times throughout my life, but for some reason I found that this particular sermon was crammed packed with several new insights. It was awesome! And then it became convicting.

The message ended by saying that any time we refuse to do what God tells us to, we are being like Jonah. No, we may not be picking up and running in the opposite direction of what we are told to do, but is that any worse than disobeying by sitting on our couches while ignoring God? When God tells you to do something, you need to do it. It didn’t take long for that message to personally hit me, and instantly I knew it was about ETM.

It took another two days of dwelling on the sermon before something else hit me.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. – Jonah 1:4-5 (ESV)

One of the things the pastor mentioned that I had never before considered about the story of Jonah, was the impact his disobedience and sin would have on others. When Jonah booked passage on a ship to Tarsus, it wasn’t a pleasure cruise. It was a cargo ship. He was sailing with sailors who made a living from delivering cargo.

But then Jonah stepped on board. And as a consequence of his personal sin the entire crew suffered. After they set sail a storm hit the ship. One powerful enough to panic an experienced crew to the point that they started dumping their cargo, their livelihood, overboard. The storm almost broke the ship in half, because it was so strong. They were not the ones disobeying God, they were the innocent bystanders, but because of Jonah’s disobedience the crew lost an entire shipment of cargo, and almost lost their lives.

If God puts a message on my heart to write about, then I need to do it. There are no excuses about how “nobody will read it” or how “pointless” a virtual ministry is. I just need to obey. It’s up to God to make it effective, and since I don’t know the future I can’t even hope to make a prediction about how the article may affect someone.

There might have been a person who would have read one of those articles on this website who needed to hear exactly what I was told to share. Maybe they needed wisdom, edification, or conviction, from what they would have read. But because I never wrote it, I missed out on an opportunity to be used by God to be a blessing in another person’s life. And for what? So I could watch some movies or play games?

Or maybe what I wrote never would have been used to help someone. Maybe I’m just supposed to write it out of obedience. For whatever the reason, I was led to do something awesome and I didn’t do it. And for that, I give you a heartfelt apology. I’m sorry I disobeyed God and was not there for you when you needed me to be.

Jon Zenor

Would we do more, if following Jesus wasn’t so easy?

The Jordan River
The Jordan River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning while reading the Bible I came across the story of Naaman, a commander of an army who also had leprosy.  He does what any of us would probably do when facing such a severe disease, he turned to God.

 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’”  So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child’s, and he was healed!

— 2 Kings 5:10-14 (NLT)

I see this passage and am struck with the question, do I do the same thing?

He is struck with a disease and approaches God for healing, and the prophet gives him a simple answer. Go wash in the Jordan River.  His response is “No way!”  I can see at least three reasons in this passage as to why he said “no” at first.  And then I have to wonder if any of them are the reason I use to avoid doing what I am told to do.

Pride

“I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” 2 Kings 5:11

Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” – 2 Kings 5:12

Pride is something that is really difficult to deal with, but is the cause for so much of our disobedience to God.  And it is something that affects everyone.

For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, . . . pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” — Mark 7:21-23 NLT

Naaman wanted to receive the royal treatment, after all he was a commander of an entire army.  Yet when the prophet simply sends him a message with instructions, Naaman is greatly offended.  Instead of taking to heart what he was told to do, he lets his ego get the better of him and he walked away bitter.
I know too many people that have walked away from God, bitter towards Him, simply because God acted in some way that we didn’t want and we refuse to be humble.
Naaman then used the excuse that there are better rivers than the Jordan, so why not just use them?  Have you ever been called to do something in an area that you did not like?  Who wants to minister in the slums when you can minister to Hollywood stars and football players, right?
We have to be careful to not let our pride get in the way of our mission.  Pride in ourselves or in what area of the world we minister in.  If God calls us to pass out tracks in the slums of our city, then passing out tracks in the better areas of town is not a compromise, it’s just plain disobedience.
Naaman was not going to be healed by the water in the Jordan itself, but by obedience and humility.

Expectations

“I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! -2 Kings 5:11 NLT

I cannot count the number of times that I was disappointed because God did not act in the way that I, a mere human, wanted Him, the God of the universe, to act.  How silly is that?

We expect that when we pray for healing that God will instantly heal everything about us, or that if we pray for financial help that God will have someone send us enough money for everything we “need” to take care of.

But in reality God works in many different ways, sometimes subtle, but almost always in ways we never expected.

This week I have been praying for God to help us out financially.  Later I went to the store, and I saw a few movies that I really wanted.  Normally I would just get one and go on with my day.  I tried.  I stood in the movie section for ten minutes trying to decide which movie to get when it occurred to me, I didn’t really feel like buying a movie.  I wanted the movie, but the desire to actually spend money on it was gone.  In that way God helped me financially, not by giving me money like I wanted, but by helping me not be so stupid with the money He had already provided through my paycheck.

Don’t refuse to follow God or do what He commands you to do simply because it isn’t the way you wanted Him to help.

It’s too Easy

Project365-Day4
Project365-Day4 (Photo credit: JonZenor)

“Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” – 2 Kings 5:13

This one I have seen happen to people before.  They want to follow God in some really big important way, and until they are called to do something really big and important, they do nothing.

To accept the challenge to climb a mountain or donate a large sum of money to a cause makes us feel like we are actually doing something for God.  Why?  Because not everybody can do this.

We want to help others and serve God in some way that is unique and special, not just like everyone else can do.  Anybody could give a homeless person a few dollars, but we want to be the one to help get that homeless person back on their feet and into the life they used to have.

We want to be the one that flew to another country, went on a tour of Israel, and climbed a mountain to be closer with God.  It sounds impressive; very impressive.  Because it is not something that most people will ever do.  It shows that we have more dedication and commitment to God, that you are willing to sacrifice a lot for God.

But will you sacrifice the little things, every single day, for God?

Right now I’m using this excuse to avoid tithing.  Due to my current financial situation, I cannot give $100 a week in tithes and other charities like I used to do. So I haven’t been giving anything.  I could give $10, but that isn’t as impressive as what I used to do, it’s too easy.  So I do nothing.  Sacrificing ten dollars doesn’t show much dedication and sacrifice compared to one hundred.

Easy does not mean unimportant

Another reason why I think people do not do the easy things that God calls us to  do is because we feel like if it isn’t difficult then it isn’t important.  I can say that this is not true.

Giving a few dollars to a homeless man is important to him.  Reading your Bible every day may seem unimportant because of how easy it is, but it can have the single largest impact on your life.  Giving only $10 to Gospel for Asia is important for those people who are given a Bible or clean water because of that small donation.

Serving God is easy.  Follow Him, read the Bible, and follow what God tells you to.  It’s so easy that we think it is not important.  But it is important.  It is the most important thing we can do in our entire life.

Do you use any of these excuses to avoid following God?  What are you planning on doing about that?

Think like a Calvinist, live like an Arminian

Leonard Ravenhill, one of my favorite pastors, had a saying he would quote often: “think like a Calvinist, live like an Armenian.”

I told this quote to a Calvinist friend of mine the other day who replied saying “If I felt the souls of everyone here was on me I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”  It took me a few days to digest what exactly he said in relation to the quote, but really it gets to the heart of what Ravenhill meant.

See, Ravenhill was a great man of prayer. He spent countless sleepless nights praying that God would penetrate the lives of the lost and would penetrate the hearts of those already saved (a.k.a. bring Revival).

What is a Calvinist?

A Calvinist believes (for the purposes of this article) that the salvation of men is 100% up to God not decided by what man does at all. This can easily lead to a Calvinist not evangelizing and not spending time bringing the lost before the throne of God in prayer. I know because that is how I felt when I started to believe this. I would neglect praying for the lost and I would neglect witnessing to those who are lost because “it is up to God,” and I would use that to excuse the tough work of evangelism that we are called to.

Living like an Armenian

On the other hand, an Armenian believes that it is man’s decision to follow God or not, so someone who believes this spends a lot of time evangelizing and praying for the lost because the more people who hear the gospel the more people have a chance to choose God.

Obedience

With this in mind think about what Ravenhill said. “Think like a Calvinist, live like an Armenian.”  He is saying that yes, it is completely up to God who accepts and who rejects Christ, but regardless of that knowledge we are to spend our time evangelizing and praying for the lost and doing what we can to get the gospel to the lost.

Why?

Because we are told to.

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “ How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” – Romans 10:14-15

I do not know what part man plays in helping spread the gospel, if it is 100% up to God who receives the gift, then what part could we possibly play in this whole thing? And my answer is, I do not think it matters. It is not our job to understand how God works things out or why He tells us to the things He tells us to do.

Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. – Luke 10:2

You do not need to know the engineering details of how a car works in order to drive. Does your knowledge of how a carburetor works or how a spark plug works enable you to start and drive your car any more efficiently? No. In order to operate a car, you just need to know how to start the car and (safely) maneuver the vehicle.

In the same way we do not need to know how the engine of salvation works or exactly what part our prayer plays in the whole picture. All we need to know is how ot operate it. We only need to know how to follow God’s directions regardless of if we understand everything or not.

I will admit that obedience without fully understanding how it works is hard to do sometimes, but it must be done.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. – Romans 10:1

I know in my own life I need to pray that God makes this burden real to me despite the knowledge that I have. My friend was right, this should keep us up all night with the souls of so many being lost right around us.  I have to ask myself why this burden does not rip at my conscience more than it does.  I do not have an answer for that, but I do know how to fix it – Prayer.

So yes, think like a Calvinist, but live like an Armenian.

“but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” – Acts 6:4

Living Rich with God’s money

In my previous article I addressed some questions that come up when talking about money and saving and what God has shown me about each question. In this article I will briefly explain how I am being led with my money.

The Goal, The Plan, The Purpose

Last year God gave me a goal to work on for finances. He wants me to cut my living expenses by at least 35%. I did not know why or how to do that when I am currently living paycheck to paycheck. This goal has been on my mind since, and I have done what I can to make it happen but without much luck.

Finally, after about nine months of praying over this God gave me the plan (Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover) which I just started. I am not fully aware of the purpose of this goal other than to free up the resources God has given me to manage to help others. It is pretty clear in the Bible that this is required of all Christians, to help others with what God provided. Beyond that, I do not know why God wants me to make such drastic changes in my life.

Don’t worry, focus on God

Luke 12:21-24 has some words of warning and advice for us here.

“So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!

This passage tells me to not worry about your money, God gives and takes away, it is all His. If He chooses to use you for a storehouse for a year or a lifetime, awesome, if not, awesome.

Realize that it is all His, and you are just the steward, realize that money is nothing, focus on a relationship with God, that is what matters. Everything else just gets in the way. Want to save money? Sure, just make sure you are doing it for the Lord and following Him, not trying to make yourself secure. Only God knows the future, you never know what will come up where the money God has given you to manage could be used in a huge way if you were to just save a percentage of it now.

Want to give away every dime and rely on faith for your retirement? Awesome, just make sure it is from God so you are not left broke wondering what happened and God says “I gave you all the resources you needed and the abilities to work, you were not responsible so I took them from you.”

Whatever you do, do it for the Lord.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line, what counts is not how much money you have in savings, how much you make, how much you give away. What matters is your attitude towards God and towards your money.

I know someone who makes a lot of money, and gives a lot of money, yet his life does not show devotion to God. God isn’t pleased with our giving, He is pleased with our obedience to Him through our relationship with Him.

Repent of your greed (we all have it to some extent), and follow God. As you draw closer to Him your desires will become His desires. You will want to save and give away what He tells you because you are close to Him. Just be cautious of the greed and the pride that can sneak in and distract and destroy.

Word of Warning

One last word of warning though. Do not just assume that God wants you to build up wealth and spend money on yourself to live comfortably and have nice cars. In America we have the mindset that we deserve the nice cars, big houses, big screen TVs and game systems. Before you buy anything for yourself, or before you start putting most of your money into retirement, pray, and sure you use God’s money the way God wants you to. God may not have called you to that life of comfort you want to live in.

Are you living in sin without realizing it?

As a Christian it goes without saying that I try to avoid sin in my life. I do not get drunk, do drugs, hate other people, steal, kill, or cheat through life. We do such a good job, in fact, of avoiding sin that we get prideful and arrogant. We think we are doing good enough and are better than others that we do not really analyze our life to see if we are living a life for Christ or are living in sin.

To make matters worse, everything around us, including society, is trying to camouflage sin, making it seem less wrong or even making it okay to do. It is not until we see someone actually living a righteous life that the camouflage gets removed and the sin is exposed as what it is.

Removing the camouflage on my sin

I love to drive. I do not know what it is about driving, but I just love to get out on the road and drive. And I am a person that does not speed. Well, you know, nothing *that* fast. I usually stick to about 5 miles per hour over the speed limit and on the highways I go with the flow of traffic. It is not really “speeding” because everybody else on the road does it.

And by saying “everyone does it” I am not trying to be cliche or anything like that. Literally, every person I know thinks that five miles over is the norm, and rarely do you find cops that will pull you over for this making it seem okay in the eyes of the law.

Then I went on a trip to South Carolina to visit my friend, Sean. Sean is not like everybody else… Sean has this crazy notion that the speed limit, is actually the speed limit. He takes the law seriously, even when it is inconvienant or slower.

It is a refreshing sight to see someone who takes something seriously. Sean took the speed limit seriously, and did not speed if he could help it. And this convicted me. Seeing someone else living the way we know we should live removes any excuse that we could use to avoid living like we know we should.

No more excuses

Now I have no more excuses to continue living the way I was. I know that not only do I know I should live righteously, but it is also very possible to live righteously. So I no longer speed; but for real this time.

This makes me wonder, what else is in our life that we think is normal and acceptable behavior but the Bible tells us is sin? Anything breaking the law is wrong, including speeding, pirating software, music, and movies, not paying taxes or any number of other things.

Be Holy

God tells us to “Be Holy for I am Holy” (1 Peter 1:16) which makes it clear that we are to be holy, set apart, not living like the rest of the world. Why must we be holy even though everybody else is having fun in sin? Because God is holy, and we are taking on His name and representing Him.

When you sin, you are not giving yourself a bad name, or the church you go to. You are really giving God a bad name and image. How can we dare take on that responsibility and then continue living in sin using the excuse that “everybody is doing it?”

When Christians let the norms of society define what is right or wrong, we are really in trouble.

Living for God, not for yourself

Not only do we regularly sin by doing actions we shouldn’t, like speeding, the church is also involved in sins of omission, or the sin of being disobedient. Most of the church is lazy, not living for God at all and just doing what they want to do. Rarely do people prayer read their Bibles, let alone actually witness to people.

We are not to live this way!

Christians have a calling, and we cannot ignore that calling just because everybody else does. Sometimes this is hard to see, which is why we must look to those who live their faith like they believe it. People such as Francis Chan, for example. When we see these people living their faith it should convict us to live for God with all of our life instead of the 2% we give Him now.

So take some time and listen to sermons from Francis Chan or other pastors, and spend even more time praying and reading God’s word. This will help you to identify what sin is in your life that you may not even realize.

Easter: Getting back to the basics

Today will no doubt be a busy day for most people.  You have clothes to get ready, get to church on time, find the eggs with the kids, easter baskets to pick through for favorite candies, and a big family easter dinner to prepare.  To many people it seems that they spend all day celebrating easter, and little time celebrating Jesus.

Besides the hour and a half spent singing praise songs and listening to a sermon at church, very litte thought is given towards God today with all of the business distracting us.  Like many western traditional celebrations easter becomes less a celebration of the resurection of the cross and more of a celebration of the celebration itself.

Today is the day that we remember the most unfair sacrifice in all of history. Today we remember Jesus, the creator of all things (John 1:3), being perfect and without any sin (Hebrews 4:15), but was raised from the dead, conquering death, so we could be called righteous before God! (Romans 5:19)  Do you get the impact of that statement?

You have sinned, a lot. Do not try denying it, you are a filthy sinner. Every lie, every lustful thought, every greedy or selfish action you take, all of it, is detestable in the sight of God. Don’t believe me? Just look at the old testament, at how God wanted those who sined to be punished. It gives a glimpse of how much God hates sin.  Yet God, the one you sin against every day, sacrificed Himself, for what? To erase every evidence of sin in our life. To declare us righteous and allow us to serve Him, the living God!

“Are we sorry for grieving the heart of God… for denying God the right to own our personality… to own our mind… to own our thoughts… to own our emotions? (If not) we’re robbing God.” – Leonard Ravenhill

Instead of making today about easter bunnies and new clothes and business of making big dinners, spend today focusing on your sin, repenting from your sin, and thanking God for the wonderful act of Grace that He has provided freely for you. Take some time to celebrate that, what easter is supposed to be all about.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. – Romans 5:7-9

Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.  For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation … – Hebrews 2:1-3

Isaiah 53

 1 Who has believed our message
   and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
   and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
   nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
   a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
   he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

 4 Surely he took up our pain
   and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
   stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
   he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
   and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
   each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.

 7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
   Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
   for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
   and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
   nor was any deceit in his mouth.

 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
   and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
   and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
   he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
   and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, 
   and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
   and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
   and made intercession for the transgressors.

If I only (fill in blank) God would approve of me more, right?

There’s one concern that ought to outweigh all others – and that is this: To be able to answer the question, “How can I be right with God?”

How can a person know that they stand in God’s favor and not under His judgment?

How can they be confident that when this life is over, they’re accepted and not condemned before the Heavenly Judge?

What is righteousness? It simply means to BE in the right; being in the place where God approves us.

Under the Mosaic Covenant, righteousness was conditioned on obedience to the Law. For ancient Israel, being right with God was about what a person did or didn’t do. It was based in their works, how well they performed in light of the commands and statutes of God. The blood of the sacrifice provided a covering to hide their guilt from God. As soon as they sinned, they were no longer right until they brought another sacrifice and once more covered over their guilt.

The only time they could be confident they were okay with God was when the smoke of their sacrifice ascended to heaven. But how long would it be before they sinned once more & another sacrifice would be needed?

While Israel’s righteousness was based on their performance of and obedience to the law, ours is based, not in our performance, but in Christ’s.

The only way a person can be right with God is to obey Him. For Israel, that obedience was to the Law; our obedience is to believe in Christ – who lived a life of perfect righteousness before God.

Being right with God is all about works – the only issue is whose works we stand in – ours or Christ’s! Either we come to God in ourselves, bringing our own merit and effort, or we come to God in Christ, standing in His merit.

The prophet Isaiah tells us what a righteousness based on our works is like. In Isaiah 64:6 we read, “We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

The Apostle Paul was someone who went through a radical transformation when he realized that being right with God was not about what he did but by believing in what Christ had done.

Philippians 3:4-9
4bIf anyone thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Paul was a standout among his peers when it came to morality and keeping the rules of his religion as a Jew. When Jesus met him on the Road to Damascus, Paul came to realize that the righteousness he needed wasn’t based in his works, his performance, but came through faith in Christ who had already performed FOR him.

He goes on to say in Philippians 3:8-9 “8Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.

There it is right there…we can attempt to gain acceptance and righteousness with God through our own works, or we can be right with Him through the One He’s already accepted.

Which do you choose?

Psalm 27:4 “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.”

David knew the only way to enjoy fellowship with God was to be right with Him, and the only time he felt truly right with God was at the tabernacle, offering sacrifice to Him.

The same is true for us – our confidence in fellowship with God comes through sacrifice, but not the offering of a goat or bull; our sacrifice is Jesus Christ, and what He offered on the cross was enough for all time.

His is a perfect sacrifice that forever cleanses those who come to Him. Our righteousness, and so our fellowship with God, is not the see-saw experience of the Israelite under the law, it’s a confident expectation that because Jesus is eternally right with God and we are in Him, then we too are right with God & can enjoy the most intimate communion with Him every moment of every day, no matter where we are or what we’re doing.

Now we have the answer to that most important of all questions – “How can a person be right with God.” Through faith in Jesus Christ; that what He did in living a sinless and perfect life, then dying for us and rising again from the dead, provides the ground upon which we can stand accepted by God for all eternity.

Christian, God already accepts you completely in Christ! You cannot make God accept or love you more!

Your fellowship with God is not based on your performance, on whether or not you’ve been a good boy or girl. your fellowship with God is based on your new relationship with God through faith in Jesus and what HE’S done.

In other words, the Father looks at you in the same way He looks at the Son, with full and unreserved acceptance and love. YOU now are His son, His daughter, and as such,your standing before God is based on relationship, not performance.

Many of us base our approach to God like a service based on our efforts instead of realizing we are His sons and daughters. We think that it’s all up to us, that we have to perform and that our closeness to God is based on how well we’re doing. We think God’s acceptance and blessing is based on what we do.

What God would have us know today is that because of what Christ HAS DONE, we cannot make ourselves more acceptable to Him! The great secret of intimacy with God is to let go of self-effort in earning our way to His favor, and instead, taking by faith what is already ours.

Some think, “Oh if I only read the Bible more often…or prayed more often…or evangelized more…that God would love me more and His favor would shine upon me more”. No! Christian, because of Christ, God loves you and accepts you just as much now as if you did all those things…those things are good, but those things will not incur more favor with God. Since God has fully accepted Christ, since you are IN Christ, God has fully accepted you! By saying these things to yourself, you are creating your own works based righteousness, not God based. Essentially telling yourself that if you do these things under your own effort, that God would accept you more.

There are those who say that a message like this is dangerous because it sounds like it doesn’t matter what we do – that because God accepts us in Christ, obedience doesn’t matter.

Can the Christian live a morally careless life and still be right with God? Can a believer live IN sin and be righteous In Christ at the same time? Of course not!

The evidence we are truly God’s sons and daughters is a growing family resemblance – we will look ever more like our Father. The fruit of genuine faith is not perfection but growth toward it.

As you stand before God, do you come in yourself, or Christ? If you come in Christ, then know this, God fully accepts and loves you without reserve. God yearns for you to just bask in that love and acceptance and that you would forever be free from fear and worry.

As Christopher quoted a few days ago, 1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”

If you come in yourself, and think that you can be right before God in your own works, you are tragically mistaken. You see, you’re basing your ideas on what God accepts by comparing yourself to other people instead of God’s standard. God doesn’t measure you against other people, grade on the bell curve – His standard is perfection.

Since no one but Jesus meets the criteria, no one gets in any other way but through Him.

Who is Satan? (Part 2)

Has Satan Fallen From Heaven?

Does he still have access to the throne of God? According to the Bible, Satan still has access to heaven and God.

Ezekiel 28:16: “Thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God.” The prediction of this judgment is for a yet future event to happen when Satan is cast down out of heaven to earth in the middle of the Tribulation. This passage does not teach that Satan was cast out of heaven at the time of his sin and as an immediate judgment for his sin. It just states the sentence that has been given to Satan which has not yet been meted out (kind of like a person on death row; they have already been sentenced to die, but the punishment has not happened yet).

Job 1:6: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them.” In this passage, no confusion is apparent about the appearance and presence of Satan among the other heavenly beings. This passage shows his position in heaven and also reveals that, in the days of Job, Satan was free to go and come into heaven from the earth.

Luke 22:31: “And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.” From this passage, we must conclude that Satan still had unchallenged access to the presence of God when Jesus was on earth.

Ephesians 6:11-12: “11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” According to the Scriptures, throughout this age the believer must be prepared to war against spiritual beings of wickedness who have access to heaven. The evidence presented in this passage shows Satan is not yet cast out of heaven.

There is another revelation concerning Satan’s present position in which it is declared that he now has access to earth as well as heaven, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). From these passages it may be concluded that the position of Satan in heaven and his freedom to go to and fro in the earth has not changed since the days of Job.

What Will Happen To Satan?

Revelation 12:7-9 is the first passage in the Word of God which declares Satan to actually be banished from heaven, “7And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” This passage also teaches that Satan remains in heaven until the time described here. According to its context in the book of Revelation, this is a yet future time when, in the middle of the Great Tribulation, Satan will be finally banished from heaven (along with his demons) and will personally indwell the person of the Antichrist.

Thus, there is no question concerning the sufficiency of the power of God over Satan. It is only a question as to when that power will be exercised. It is important to distinguish Satan’s yet future physical banishment out of heaven from his moral fall. He obviously fell morally at the moment of his refusal to obey God’s will for him, but his physical position throughout the ages until the Tribulation is in heaven. From this position, he has access to both God and to the earth. God’s final judgments against Satan are not yet executed. In like manner, God has not yet caused sin to cease in the earth; but the day is coming when He will. Also, Satan is still under God’s power; he cannot do anything without the knowledge and permission of God, hence Satan having to get permission from God to afflict Job in the Old Testament book of Job.

What Was Satan’s Sin?

Satan was the first being to manifest a will opposed to the will of God. Those passages from Isaiah state the sin of his pride, “I will ascend into heaven. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. I will sit upon the mount. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the most High.” Satan seeks not to make a violent attack upon God’s throne, but to steal the hearts of the unfaithful in the kingdom and, through his lies and subtleties, gain a kingdom for himself. He would thus become an object of worship and attract attention from others to himself. It is apparent that pride was the first sin and thus pride is the sin from which all others stem from.

Satan triumphed over the first Adam when he wrested the scepter of authority from man by securing man’s loyal obedience to his own suggestions and deception. This earthly scepter Satan held by full right, seemingly without challenge from the Lord, until the advent of the Last Adam. Christ is considered the “last Adam” because through his sacrifice, he undid the curse of sin (which was eternal spiritual death for all humankind), thus undoing the curse on all mankind which the first Adam introduced to the world through his sin. However victorious Satan may have been over the first Adam, it is certain that he met a complete and final judgment and sentence in the Last Adam.

Referring to His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). Still another scriptural testimony to this great defeat of Satan is recorded in Colossians 2:13-15 “13And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” It is clear that though Satan may have triumphed over the first Adam and thus became the god and prince of this world, he himself was finally triumphed over and judged by the Last Adam on the cross.