Obedience Is A Good Word

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“Prayer will become effective when we stop using it as a substitute for obedience.” – A.W. Tozer – Man Of God, Facebook page.

It seems that many in the American church have confused obedience to Jesus with legalism. I hear a good deal of talk about prayer, revival, and the rapture but very little about living lives of obedience to Jesus. My point is not to be critical but to encourage us (myself included) to return to a life of biblical discipleship.

American Christians have been distracted by a constant flow of information and entertainment. 1 John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

When we immerse ourselves in Netflix or our favorite sports channel, our spiritual senses become dull. Entertainment has its place but not to the detriment of our obedience to God. If we are serious about revival; prayer and conformity to the Scripture could be the key to seeing a move of God. Jesus is still calling his followers to take up our crosses and follow him. His teaching on self-denial seems to be missing from much of the western version of the gospel.

Spiritual darkness is increasing in the land – it’s time to lay aside distractions and spend time with God in prayer and the Bible. And to become “doers of the word and not hearers only.” Obedience to Scripture is not legalism; it produces life.

 

Jesus Has Risen: A Quote From Ignatius

“Jesus Christ who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him, who in the like fashion will so raise us also who believe on Him.” – Ignatius, (written around AD 110-115.)

Jesus Tasted Death

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…Adam tasted the sweetness of the apple and obtained the bitterness of death for the whole human race. In contrast to this, the Lord tasted the bitterness of gall and obtained our restoration from death’s sting to the sweetness of life. He took on himself the bitterness of gall in order to extinguish in us the bitterness of death.” – Chromatius Of Aquileia

“Then Jesus told his disciples,“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 16:24-25 ESV

Jesus took on Satan in head-to-head combat and won. He wrestled lost humanity from the devil’s evil grip. Our Lord lived in constant communion with the Father. And he waged spiritual war with the devil by his obedience to the Father.

Jesus took on the religious system of the day and exposed the worthless traditions of men that had taken it over. He came to offer those who were broken and hurting a new way of life. He called those that would be his disciples to turn their backs on superstitions and dead religious practices. He commanded his disciples to deny themselves and to take up their crosses and to follow him. And he is still calling us to embrace the way of the cross today.

The path to the cross is a path of submission to God – empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We need help to embrace the lifestyle of the Kingdom of God and Jesus is the master teacher. It’s contrary to our nature to love our enemies. This radical lifestyle of love can only be done by God’s empowering grace.

By the time Jesus had reached the garden of Gethsemane, he could say that the devil had no place in him(John 14:30.) He was and is still is the sin-less spotless Lamb of God.

The first Adam lost the battle with Satan in a garden called Eden. Jesus (who represents the last Adam) won his struggle in the garden called Gethsemane.

Jesus tasted death on the cross so that all that would trust in him would have eternal life in God’s kingdom.

Prayer: Battling In The Unseen Realm

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I believe in the power of prayer. Through prayer, God can either change our circumstances or teach us to trust in his goodness in any situation. I use ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ as a template for my time with God in the morning. I also use other prayers of Jesus’ in the Gospels, the Apostolic prayers, and the Psalms. These prayers can help to form our devotional time with God. They assist in shaping us into the image of Jesus. 

The Apostle Paul was clear that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood – our real enemies are spiritual beings. Evil entities influence society and the personal lives of individuals (Eph. 6:12.)  It takes Holy Spirit-inspired words to do battle with evil in the spiritual realm.

Praying Holy Spirit-directed prayer – also proclaiming the gospel to the nations is vital in waging war in the unseen realm. Screaming at those we disagree with or at the devil will not give us the results we desire. Angry rants will not bring about the end of spiritual darkness. But, a life lived pursuing the presence of God in prayer can make a difference.

Those who build their lives on Scripture and prayer are entrusted with the power of God to overcome evil. Those who are determined to push back the darkness in society and religion must discover the power of prayer. Followers of Jesus need to stand for justice and to work to make our world a better place. But gaining more political influence will not change one human heart.

Intimacy with Jesus is not an option for those who desire to walk and pray in Christ’s authority. Knowing and abiding in God is our ultimate goal. 

My desire is to pray in agreement with the heart of God.

1 John 5:14-15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him.” 

We can battle in the unseen spiritual realm by praying in the Spirit – with all types of prayers (Eph.6:18.) And with the confidence that God will use our prayers to help establish his purposes in the earth.

 In this manner, therefore, pray:
 
Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 
 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. 
 Give us this day our daily bread. 
 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 
And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory   forever. Amen. –  (Matthew 6: 9 – 12 NKJ) 

 

 

Unpardonable Arrogance In Prayer – Leonard Ravenhill

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“In praying, we assume the unpardonable arrogance of crying for the blessed Spirit to come with His grace—but not with His gifts! This is the day of a restricted and relegated Holy Ghost, even in fundamentalist circles. We need and say that we want Joel 2 to be fulfilled. We cry, ‘‘Pour out Thy Spirit upon all flesh!’’ yet add the unspoken caution, ‘‘but don’t let our daughters prophesy, or our young men see visions!’’ – Lenoard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries

The Blessed Life

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Blessed is the man

 who walks not in the counsel of the wicked\ nor stands in the way of sinners,

 nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,

 and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree

 planted by streams of water

 that yields its fruit in its season,

 and its leaf does not wither.

 In all that he does, he prospers.

 The wicked are not so,

 but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

 nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

 but the way of the wicked will perish. – (Psalm 1 ESV)

What we meditate on shapes our minds, wills, and emotions. Our actions are determined by our thought-life. Meditating on God’s word day and night is foundational to the life of the disciple, and there is no Christianity without discipleship. Holy Scripture is “God-breathed.” God’s words have creative power – he spoke the world into existence. He raises those who are spiritually dead to life with His word. The inner life of a disciple is formed by the Word of God through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. 

The revelation of who God is causes us to get a glimpse of his transcendence. 

Meditating and contemplating the truth of God brings stability to our lives. Transformed thinking leads to a profound sense of joy and peace even in times of uncertainty. As New Testament believers we have the Spirit abiding in us at all times.

“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8 ESV)

This transformation of our inner person is the outcome of gazing at the beauty of Jesus, as revealed in the Gospel. King David was careful to use his sanctified imagination to “set the Lord always before him.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible says, “I keep the LORD in mind always. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)

King David ask God to create in him a clean heart. God’s creative activity in the human heart never ceases. And just as our Creator created the human race by breathing life into Adam, so he has created a new race called Christians, by giving us his Spirit. We are, spiritually speaking, a new creation in Christ, whom God has created out of the midst of fallen humanity.

God has given his children access to the blessed life – which means true happiness. A key component to spiritual growth is avoiding the counsel of the wicked, at all cost. And to avoid the talk and the reasoning of those who scoff at God and his people. This is an essential part of the Spirit-led life.

As we consistently engage God in prayer, and meditation on the Scripture – our souls will flourish and prosper. Listening to Hollywood, the media, politicians, and the talking heads of popular culture can lead us into spiritual depression. But, our attentiveness to God’s voice brings a deep sense of joy in a confused and negative world. “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NLT)

Having confidence in the nearness of God is the key to our enjoyment of him. So even when His presence is not felt – we still know that Jesus is with us. And that “he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) 

The goal of our lives is to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

Prayer When Your World Is Falling Apart – Kyle Strobel

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With the tensions and tragedies piling on top of each other in our country, it can feel like the world is pulling apart at the seams. I find myself wanting to pray, but I also struggle in prayer in this season. The difficulty with praying in times like ours is that we tend to want a God who is on our side – and our God isn’t. Christians pray to the God who descended with fire and fury on Sinai. We pray to the whirlwind who demanded Job answer for his ignorance and give an account for his bold demands. We pray with and in Jesus, the same Jesus who called Peter “Satan” to his face, telling him “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33). Unfortunately, we do not have the advantage of hearing God call us into account in the moment, and so our prayers can too easily become self-serving mechanisms to confirm our presuppositions. Instead, our prayers need to lead us into the truth, and lead us into the way of the kingdom. Rather than spitting our own fury and venom online (a temptation I have talked about here), we need to pause and recall James’ difficult word: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (Jas. 1:26). But bridling our tongue is not silence, it is using our words to seek the God of truth.

As we bring the upheaval in our country to God, therefore, we need to start by being “watchful” in our prayers (Col. 4:2). We are watchful because we need to see what our hearts long for in God’s presence. We need to be open to the truth of what we really want. Maybe, like David in Psalm 139, we declare, “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me!” (v. 19). It is there that we need to pause, with David, and then pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (vs. 23-24). It is this “search me” that I think we need to pay attention to. Before God, as we pray in his presence, we need to be searched, and we need to have our “thoughts and intentions” laid bare before him by the truth of his word (Heb. 4:12). But what does this mean during this kind of upheaval? 

First, it means that our prayers cannot be that we would win, or that our side would prove victorious. This is the desperate desire to have God further our agenda in the world, not trusting that “his will be done” could very well be contrary to our own. Instead, we pray that the truth would be known. We pray that God would bring justice where there isn’t justice, and that he would once again shine his light into the darkness and expose the darkness for what it is. Second, we pray for our fellow Christians – all of them, in agreement with us or not – that they would bear the fruit of Christ and his Spirit. We pray that our response to our present situation would manifest a wisdom we are told is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jas. 3:17-18). This means we pause on each of these words to consider our response, our emotions and desires, and consider if it accords with being open to reason, being full of mercy, and being peaceable. We pray that our response would epitomize the fruit of the Spirit marked as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control;” recalling that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:22-23). In our watchfulness, we must hold up our lives, our emotional responses, our rhetoric, and our social media posts against these things, and we must feel any tension we might have with them. This is where our prayers need to lead us.

When we pray we need to actually show up in prayer, which means we need to be watchful and open to the truth of ourselves in the presence of the God of justice and love. As we open these things to the Lord, we need to feel the weight of how little the ways of God tend to form our responses to the world. We need to hear James’ warning that our anger does not produce the righteousness of God (Jas. 1:20), and see how quickly we turn to anger to advance our agenda in this world. We need to consider that our God is sovereign, and that he calls us to bring these things to him in lament, sadness, frustration, anger, fear and yet longing for faithfulness. We need to name the truth of our hearts, whatever is bubbling over in us, to the God who calls us to have lives reordered around himself. In our praying, we bring all of this to the God who delivers, redeems, forgives, and rescues. Doing so is our first step in recalling our true hope – Christ – trusting that he really is present and active even in the darkest times. 

When we fail to pray this way, too often our prayers become ways to reaffirm our flesh – asserting our views as sovereign, and trusting that we are in the right and everyone against us is foolish. It is this narcissism that has been on full display so often in our country, and, even, by Christians, too captivated by worldly goods to hold their lives up to the Word. We need to feel the weight of the Word, and we need to feel this especially in our prayers, allowing the Word of the Lord to condition all of our praying. 


Kyle Strobel is the associate professor of spiritual theology at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and is co-author of the new book Where Prayer Becomes Real: How Honesty with God Transforms Your Soul (Baker Books).

Sin And The Kindness Of God

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How has your sin been working out for you lately? Or better yet: how has sin enhanced your life so far?

Do I sound judgemental?

I hope not!

I must say the older I get, the more I regret the sins of my past. And I still find myself frustrated with my lack of maturity. Sin hasn’t worked out so well for me. Don’t get me wrong; I have experienced forgiveness – and I feel the love and affection of my heavenly Father. But, we do reap what we sow. And while Jesus forgives our sins we still have to live with the consequences of our poor decessions from the past.

Forgiven but scarred.

Now I don’t claim to be the sharpest tool in the box, but I have never doubted my capacity to sin. I know what I’m capable of without God’s sustaining grace. And, I am serious about that! God’s grace is not part of some religious vocabulary that I use. It’s real to me. God is merciful and full of kindness. 

The uncreated Creator is the kindest Being in the universe.

He is a forgiving God – but to only those who ask for it. And turn from willful sin.

Sadly, we live in a world that doesn’t believe in sin anymore. And that’s tragic. Because when a person doesn’t believe his or her lifestyle choices can be offensive to God, they forfeit his grace. And cut themselves off from God’s forgiveness. How we live and treat others still matters to the LORD.

Jesus didn’t die for our mistakes – he died for our sins.

 One person’s wrong choices (sins) have devastating consequences for a family, society, and themselves.

I don’t expect non-Christians to see reality from a biblical point of view.

 But how can we as believers not acknowledge the pain our sin causes God – yes God, and to those closest to us. I’ll never be sinless in this life, but the older I get, the better I understand the magnitude of my sin

It cost Jesus his life.

In our place, Jesus willfully stood condemned for every sin we’ve ever committed. And He’s given us the power to overcome sin in our lives as we grow under the watchful eye of Jesus. Growing in Christ-likeness is a marathon, not a sprint.

Don’t give up! 

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”- Romans 5:8

Flush 2020

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One day as I was praying in early December, I saw a picture in my mind of a toilet handle. As odd as it may sound, I thought that a lot about 2020 needed to be flushed and left behind us. That may sound strange to some, but I got the message – so I thought.

I took the picture above of a decorated toilet at a Christmas light show near where we live. It was about ten days after seeing the mental image of the handle. This toilet got my attention, so I went back to my journal and read the impressions I had received earlier. 

Most everyone I know experienced loss and pain in 2020. So, I assumed that was what needed to be flushed. The pain many of us endured will be with us for the rest of our lives. To some of us, it was just an inconvenience to – others – it was a loss of close friends and family members.

So what needs to be flushed if those memories cannot be erased?

I believe it is our false confidence we place in our ability to protect ourselves. As Americans we tend to live with a false sense of security. We trust in our prosperity and our government. While God is clearly showing us just how vulnerable we are.

We are called by God to live daily in total dependence on Jesus.

Jesus taught that the storms of life will hit us all. 

How do we endure what life throws at us? I can’t say it better than Jesus- build your life on him.

Matthew 7:24-27 ESV

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

A Journey Into The Past – Merry Christmas

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(I’m the little guy on the right and that’s my friend Billy on the left. I wrote the article in 2008 and my Mom passed away in 2015.)

Christmas 2008

My earliest memories as a child are when my family and I lived on Lewis Street.  The memories from my early childhood there are special. I had three close friends Billy, Mike, and Carol. We were all the same age, except Billy, he was a year older. So as far back as I can remember the gang and I met in our front yard on Christmas morning to compare presents. One year the boys and I all had cowboy outfits, and another year football uniforms. But my favorite Christmas that I remember we all got Army uniforms. We were all decked out in our uniforms and prepared for war! We played war games in those days fighting the ‘Japs’ and Germans (We didn’t know what political correctness was!)  When the guys and I had fought the enemy all day long, occasionally Carol would pretend to be our nurse.

During those  days we lived in what seemed to be in a “Leave It To Beaver” world. All our Moms stayed at home with us, each family had one car (I remember our 63 Chevrolet) and one black and white TV. We played hard back then, until the streetlights began to come on, and the lighting bugs came out during the summer months,  until of course I heard my Mom say,”Bobby, come in, it’s getting late!” Usually  I was getting scared by then because many times we told ghost stories setting on the side-walk. How I miss those simple days. I watched the first episode of Batman on T.V. with my friend Mike,  and I also remember the first episodes of, The Adams Family, and my favorite, Combat!

I woke up this past Christmas Eve morning feeling a little nostalgic … I miss my Dad, and I miss my old friends. So since my wife was spending the morning, cooking (she’s a Proverbs 31 woman!) I decided to go to Broad Street, get a cup of coffee, and walk around downtown Gadsden. That’s were we shopped before we got the Mall, Walmart and all the other new stores. Downtown was where the movie theater was located and where all the action was. There’s still one Variety Store that we shopped in when we were growing up, the name has been changed, and it still has that same smell of varnished  wooden floors and popcorn. I took a leisurely stroll on those sidewalks that had been such an important part of our community. And while enjoying the cool air and  listening to Christmas music that was being played, I reflected on the past.

Somehow I felt I was starting a journey back in time, so my next stop had to be at my old Elementary school, that I had attended until the second grade. I pulled up at the school only to realized I hadn’t looked down those halls since I left in about 1965! I just stared … it was like going back in time … the halls looked the same as I remembered … I could see my first grade class room,  but the playground seemed so much smaller than I remembered.

Well, there was no stopping now, I had to go back to Lewis Street. I had been back before to visit the Lewis Street Baptist Church and to look at our old house … but this time was different. I drove slowly behind Lewis Street and gazed into the woods that we use to play in behind our house, I couldn’t see it but there was a large flat rock back near the woods  that we kids used to think the devil lived under! In those days we had great imaginations because all we had to do back then was to play outside.

As I turned the corner to Lewis Street I stopped the car and stood for a few moments taking in all the memories at the corner of the woods, where I had spent so much time in so many years ago. I looked to the left where the ” Little Store “had been, at least that’s what we called it. They built onto and expanded the store an turned it into a diner. Then eventually it was torn down. I slowly drove past the church on the left and there was Carol’s house, next to Mike’s across the road from Billy’s home which was next to mine. I could feel the past … I don’t think I’ve ever looked so intently at our old house as I did that day.

The large lot we had played football on was really not as big as I had remembered as a small child. My old house was for sale again, I sure would have liked to have gone in. The memories just kept flooding into my soul. As I turned left on Nunnelly Avenue, I remembered as if it were yesterday how I had somehow slipped out of the house unnoticed and rode my tricycle to Nunnelly. I can still feel the horror I felt as my Dad drove up and put me and the tricycle in the car … he was angry, and that was the worst spanking I ever got! Needless to say, I didn’t ride my tricycle back there again.

My first memories of church, Sunday school, and Vacation Bible school happened at the Lewis Street Baptist Church. The Church was located across the street from our home. My first  thoughts about God and my first prayers that I prayed, happened in that neighborhood. That’s the place that I first learned how to make and relate to friends. God doesn’t want us to live in the past. But there is something spiritual about remembering and honoring those defining, and formative moments, and people in our past.

(To all those that are feeling lonely right now and missing loved ones – hang onto the good memories and Merry Christmas 2020.)