Sunday, July 9, 2017

I Want Deliverance NOW, Daddy!

With July 4th, Independence Day, still fresh in our minds, I thought I would post some thoughts on the freedom we have in Jesus!

This is something I've shared with a few people lately who have struggled with the concept of deliverance and overcoming sins that seem to have a hold that won't let go.  And this is a concept that has helped me a lot even as I've taught it, so I figured it might help a few other people as well.

This post is for those of us who know what we're supposed to be doing, how we're supposed to act, what a disciple of Jesus looks like, but find ourselves falling seemingly uncontrollably into the captivity of those things that have a hold on us over and over again.  It could be something like smoking or drugs, or a sexual sin like pornography or homosexuality, or it could be something like an uncontrollable anger or apathy or laziness.  But whatever it is, we know it's not right and that Jesus died to set us free from it.

I believe there are two parts to deliverance.

#1: We have to accept our identity of being delivered.

This was brought to light for me so clearly by a phenomenal sermon preached by my Pastor recently.  (You can watch it on YouTube here.  It was one of those rare sermons that fundamentally changed my way of thinking, so it's certainly worth a listen.)  The point of it was essentially that Jesus has already paid the pride...we just have to receive what He has already bought for us.  We have to possess it and take ownership of it, much as the children of Israel had to do to conquer Canaan.  God had given them the land...they simply needed to take possession of it.  (I realize you may be thinking "that's not as easy as it sounds", and I grant that, but the main point to take away here is that it is already ours, even if there are some battles to fully take possession.)  Reference Scriptures like 2 Peter 1:3, 1 Peter 2:24, Ephesians 2:6, Ephesians 2:13, Romans 8:17, and many, many more, and notice the past tense nature of these promises!

Romans 6:11  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

This verse is key to our understanding of our own deliverance.  As long as you continue to define yourself as someone who's gay, or who just can't control his temper, or can't help the way she feels, you will struggle because you are in a battle against what you believe to be inherent in your nature.  But if you can separate yourself from the behavior rather than being identified by it, and realize that you have a new identity in Jesus, you will have come a long way towards beating the sin.

But what about the struggle that then ensues?  You may hesitantly accept that God has given you the inheritance, but there are still those giants and cities with large walls in the land.  What do you do about them?  How do you overcome?  That's where the second principle comes in.

#2: Don't stop dipping in the Jordan until you're delivered!

Now what in the world do I mean by that?  Some of you may understand that reference and some may be lost.  I want to hasten to say that it doesn't mean you keep getting baptized until it takes...just as Jesus only had to die once for it to be efficacious, there is only one baptism, and when you identify yourself with His burial through it, it's done.  You have been born again into a new identity.  So what do I mean by this?  Look back with me to a story in 2 Kings.

2Ki 5:1  Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper. 
2Ki 5:2  And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife. 
2Ki 5:3  And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy. 
2Ki 5:4  And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel. 
2Ki 5:5  And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment. 
2Ki 5:6  And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy. 
2Ki 5:7  And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me. 
2Ki 5:8  And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel. 
2Ki 5:9  So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. 
2Ki 5:10  And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. 
2Ki 5:11  But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. 
2Ki 5:12  Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. 
2Ki 5:13  And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? 
2Ki 5:14  Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 

I want to point out a couple of things about this story...

First of all, Naaman was a mighty man of valor.  He didn't lack the courage it would take to be delivered.  It was simply out of his own power and ability.

Second, no amount of money or appeal to a person of power could deliver him of what ailed him.  Only God could.

Thirdly, when he finally DID turn to God by going to the prophet, what was his expectation?  Did you notice verse 11?  He thought Elisha would simply wave his hand over him, say a prayer, and he'd be instantaneously delivered!  At the snap of the man of God's fingers!  I want to spend a minute on this, because I feel that's how a lot of people expect God to deliver them of their sin.  They want a preacher to pray a prayer, wave his hand over them, and experience instantaneous deliverance.

Is that an unreasonable request?  Isn't God able to do it?  Of course, He is.  I've heard stories where a person came to an altar, laid down their cigarettes or alcohol or drugs and never had a desire for them again.  It can happen.  But, God in His wisdom, doesn't always do it that way.  Many times He wants us to struggle for it.  He wants us to take Canaan piece by piece.  I don't have time in this blog post to delve into all the reasons why, but a thorough study of Scripture will show this sometimes frustrating but always loving aspect of God's sovereign hand.

Psalm 1:3 talks about a prosperous life lived for God.  But there's an interesting phrase in the verse...
Psa 1:1  Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 
Psa 1:2  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 
Psa 1:3  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. 
When does this blessed tree bring forth fruit?  In his season.  It has to ripen.  It has to mature.  It comes in his season, as he continually takes in the nutrients of the river of God's Word, by which he or she is planted.
I know it's tempting to demand like Veruca Salt, "I want deliverance NOW, Daddy!" And pout when he doesn't immediately produce the fruit of the Spirit in us overnight.  But the ripening of the fruit of the Spirit takes time, and only produces in his season.  We want God to wave His hand over us and magically make all our problems go away.  But a lot of times it doesn't work that way?  So how DO we get the deliverance?  Let me continue with my observations of the story.

Fourth, Namaan WOULD have done some great thing...he just didn't want to do the humbling, degrading thing that was asked of him.  Namaan could think of a lot cleaner, easier ways to accomplish what the prophet wanted.  His servant points out that he would have done some great thing had he been asked to earn his deliverance.  That is also true with us, a lot of times.  We will do some GREAT thing if we're asked!  We would do almost anything...except for the degrading things God asks of us like humility, confession, accountability...etc.  That's too dirty...too common.   There are better ways.  But those aren't the ways God has chosen to use.  "Wash and be clean" is a little too simplistic and naive and easy for us.  That doesn't cure leprosy.  And we could quote all kinds of statistics and studies to show why that old-fashioned way of thinking simply doesn't work.  And would seem that God demands this humility...which brings me to the next observation.

Fifth, Elisha didn't even come out when Namaan came.  He is an honorable captain in the enemy's army, and Elisha sends a messenger with his simplistic message.  How degrading!  How uncouth!  How socially unacceptable!  What a sorry excuse for a man of God who won't even come to the door to recognize me AS I DESERVE!  I don't care if I'm a leper!  Show me some respect!  But sometimes we have to receive the message through quirky people with bad manners or social awkwardness or low society.  Are we still willing to listen, if it means we'll be made clean if we do?

Sixth, sometimes the people in our lives who live with us constantly, like the little maid from Israel who knew about the prophet and had simple faith, or the servants who were bold and trusted enough to speak their minds to their master about his childish temper tantrum, are the only one who can see our blindspots and will have the courage to point out to us what is obvious to everyone but us.  Listen to those people.

Seventh, and I purposely put this observation seventh because did you notice how many times he was supposed to dip?  Seven.  SEVEN!  Without getting too deep into numerology, why so many times??  Couldn't I just dip once or twice?  No.  Dip seven times into the dirty Jordan.  Wash in it seven times and THEN you'll be clean.  I know seven is the number of completion and all that, and I do believe that's the reason for that amount of times because you have to complete the process, but laying aside the specific number for a moment, I want us to think about how we could apply that to our lives.  You may dip into the degrading, humbling washing once, and not come out clean.  If you stop there because you're discouraged or humiliated you'll still have your leprosy.  BUT DON'T STOP.  Dip again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  Seven times, if necessary.  Seventy times seven times if necessary (which, incidentally, IS how many times Jesus said we need to forgive our brother in Matthew 18).  But don't stop till the process is complete.  I know it's embarrassing.  I know it's humiliating.  I know it's frustrating and depressing.  But keep dipping into the Jordan until you're completely clean with skin like a newborn baby!  Adopt the attitude of Micah...check this out:

Micah 7:7  Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. 
Micah 7:8  Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me. 
Micah 7:9  I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.

Grab hold of those words in your soul.  Look!  Wait.  God will hear.  Even when I fall, I SHALL arise!  I will bear God's indignation, understanding I've messed up and there are consequences, but I am fully expectant that, as my advocate, my paraclete, he will plead my cause and execute judgment, bring me forth to the light and I WILL see HIS righteousness!

If you're in the thick of the battle for the inheritance of God, today, remember these principles.  God is for you.  And if HE is for you...who shall be against you?

In conclusion, I believe this old hymn says it well:

  1. I’m pressing on the upward way,
    New heights I’m gaining every day;
    Still praying as I’m onward bound,
    “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
    • Refrain:
      Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
      By faith, on Canaan’s tableland,
      A higher plane than I have found;
      Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
  2. My heart has no desire to stay
    Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
    Though some may dwell where those abound,
    My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.
  3. I want to live above the world,
    Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
    For faith has caught the joyful sound,
    The song of saints on higher ground.
  4. I want to scale the utmost height
    And catch a gleam of glory bright;
    But still I’ll pray till rest I’ve found,
    “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

You Think You're Special?

1st Peter 5:6  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

There are times when we all have to wrestle with our own pride, and I have found that pride is one of the sneakiest vices of all.  "More subtil than all of the beasts of the field," if you will.  It creeps up in ways that we rarely expect, and is hard to notice in ourselves and even harder to deal with if someone else notices it in us.  It's one of the most interesting character flaws, in that, as C.S. Lewis, pointed out, the more we have of it in ourselves, the more we detest it in others.

A commencement speaker at Wellesley High School made an incendiary statement in his speech at the high school graduation: "You are not special."  How does that hit you? The statement rubs our millenial, impact-addicted generation the entirely wrong way, and runs contrary to what parents and other high school graduation speakers tell their children constantly.  His point was to affect a little realize that even as the earth is not the center of our solar system, and the solar system isn't the center of our galaxy, we are not the center of our world.  We are not entitled to anything, really. Hard work, dedication and principles are still required.  If everyone is special, no one really is runs along the same lines as if everyone receives a trophy, trophies become meaningless.

God spoke to Baruch through Jeremiah the prophet at a time when Judah, the nation God had chosen for Himself, and Jerusalem where He had chosen to put His name was suffering the worst defeat it ever had.  In the midst of all this, Baruch seems very focused on himself, which prompts this rebuke from the prophet:
Jeremiah 45:5  "And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest."

There's more at stake here than just you, Baruch.  There's more going on in the big picture than your specific troubles.

I have wrestled at various times in my life with the feeling that I'm not doing enough, stemming from the belief that I am capable of far more than I'm producing!  The proverbial carrot in front of my nose is that next big thing around the corner that will fulfill me and have a huge impact on the world.  But when I'm asked to define what I would want that to be, I have a hard time nailing it down.  I just know that it's something bigger...better than where I am now in my life.  And yet, time after time, I get the sense that God is tempering me, and shutting doors, and placing me in places I don't want to be, doing things that I feel others could be doing.

Now before I continue with this post, I do want to provide a clarifying caveat.  I am not encouraging laziness, inaction or apathy.  I am not suggesting that we should just settle with a sub-par life doing menial work with mediocre results.  I am 100% with William Carey's maxim, "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God."

My only concern is that we let smaller opportunities go by in search of THE BIG THING.  That illusive great thing that will fulfill and complete us.  Sometimes, I get the sense that when we turn in our resume from God and He gives us a job, we turn it down because it's not quite big enough and we feel that we are slightly overqualified for the position.

I want to work on that in my own character.  The story of Korah and Dathan and Abiram from Numbers 16 convicted me the other day.

Numbers 16:1-3 (KJV)
(1)  Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
(2)  And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:
(3)  And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?

We COULD construe their statements as, "Everyone is special...why do you think YOU are?"  Which is really an odd question when you think about it.  Their point, however, was that they felt they could do the job just as well as Moses, and why did he think he could be in charge?  They wanted something greater.   They thought Moses took too much upon himself, when anyone could have done his job.

The part that really got me though was Moses's response to them:

Numbers 16:4-11 (KJV)
(4)  And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:
(5)  And he spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Even to morrow the LORD will shew who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto him: even him whom he hath chosen will he cause to come near unto him.
(6)  This do; Take you censers, Korah, and all his company;
(7)  And put fire therein, and put incense in them before the LORD to morrow: and it shall be that the man whom the LORD doth choose, he shall be holy: ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.
(8)  And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi:
(9)  Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them?
(10)  And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?
(11)  For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?

First of all, Moses turns it around on them.  In the very act of accusing Moses that he had taken too much on himself, they were in turn, taking too much upon THEMSELVES.  But then it gets more pointed.  Verse 9 really hits home...

"Seemeth it but a small thing unto you...?"

It's almost like Moses answered their question of "You think you're special?" by asking, "You think you're not?"

God had already chosen the tribe of Levi and these leaders in particular for a very important task.  They were already set apart from the rest of the congregation because God had chosen to bring them near unto Himself to do the service of the Tabernacle of the Lord!  But that wasn't enough for them.  They wanted to be more separated.  THAT calling wasn't enough.  They wanted a greater calling.  But guess what?  Calling isn't based on skills and abilities.  It's based on God's choosing.  God's anointing.

There's a song the Jews sing at Passover called "Dayeinu" that repeats the phrase, "It would have been enough."  A few of the verses go like this...

If He had rescued us from Egypt,
but not punished the Egyptians,
It would have been enough. (Dayeinu )
If He had punished the Egyptians,
but not divided the Red Sea before us,
It would have been enough.
If He had divided the Red Sea before us,
but not supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
It would have been enough.
If He had supplied us in the desert for 40 years,but not brought us to the land of promise,
It would have been enough.
If He had brought us to the land of promise,
but not made us a holy people,
It would have been enough.

I think most of us acknowledge (if we have any sense) that just by redeeming us from sin, God has already done so much for us that He is under no obligation to bless us anymore.  But we don't really live or pray like that.  We DO expect certain things from Him.  And, again, I DO believe we should take God's promises seriously and, as the widow with unjust judge and the mandate in Isaiah 62 teaches, not give God rest until those things which He has promised has been fulfilled.

However, it's just possible that we need to step back and evaluate our expectations to see if they are really in line with God's promises or moreso to heap upon our own lusts.

Let us not neglect the seemingly trivial assignments, or the character development that is incumbent upon us in menial chores by virtue of the illusive "greater" thing we are looking for.  David knew he as going to be king, but he didn't refuse the sheep-watching, harp-playing, armor-bearing, giant-slaying, troop-leading, cave-dwelling tasks God gave him in the meantime.

An interesting statement in Numbers 18, just after God has proven His point about whom He has truly chosen, He makes an interesting statement to Aaron about the role of the Levites...

Numbers 18:6  And I, behold, I have taken your brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel: to you they are given as a gift for the LORD, to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation. 

God gave the Levites to Aaron and his sons as a gift, (which was ultimately to give back to the Lord for HIS purposes and service), which is all fine and dandy if you are Aaron or his sons.  But what if you are the gift that God is giving someone else who is in a higher position than you?

Are we willing to fulfill that role?  It's still special.  It's still necessary.  It's still a work for God.  We're just not the top dog anymore.

Hopefully this blog post gives us pause to evaluate our view of ourselves.  These are the thoughts I've been pondering.

As a closing thought, no matter what season you are in, coming out of, or going into; no matter what role you are fulfilling; no matter what stirrings are in your restless heart, let it all be strained through the filter of what God wants, and what His plans are for you.

1st Peter 5:6  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: