God is a Father who Gives Good Things

Luke 11:11-13 (NKJV) 11 If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

We have been meditating what Jesus declared in John 17:3 that the essence of eternal life is to know God. Although Jesus does not use the word “Father” in this verse he opens the prayer by praying to his Father. In verse three he says eternal life is to “know you the only true God.” The God we must know to partake of eternal life is the Father. He is not just talking about living forever here. That is actually a result of knowing

We have looked at who the Father God is in two scriptural ideas.

1. Genesis 1:26 He is a Father who wants every one of his children. He chose to create and then gave man the right to participate in creation. He wanted man to fill the earth with his children. He wants you.

2. John 3:16 He is a Father who will never abandon his children. His created family had overwhelmingly rejected him as their Father. They rejected his ways and his commandments. They chose to follow other Gods. He provided for himself a perfect son. He could have abandoned those who abandoned him. Instead he “gave his only begotten son” so that his abandoned children could once again have access to life. He will not abandon you.

Today I want to look at another revelation of the kind of Father God is to all those who receive him. In the scripture quoted above, Jesus is revealing the Father to us by comparing him with the best of natural fatherhood. A natural father gives good gifts to his children. He will not give his child a stone if he asks for bread. If he asks for fish he will not give him a snake nor a scorpion instead of an egg. That is common sense.

We do not always understand that our Heavenly Father is far better than the best fatherhood natural man has to offer. These examples have to do with food and necessities of life. Any father worth his salt is going to provide for his children. We know that there are many fathers in our world who provide for their own flesh before they provide for their children. Even the best of us fall prey to this. What Jesus wants us to see is that God never does.

There are many people whose experience with their father was not good. Their father may not have had the resources to give them the gifts they perceived as good. Sometimes it is not monetary resources that are lacking. Fathers are people. They had lives before they were fathers. They had fathers of their own. Many fathers, especially those who do not know God, simply do not have the emotional resources to meet the needs of their children. They simply do not have “good gifts” to give.

One of the most depressing statistics of my pastoral life is the percentage of people that come to church having been abused. Sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically and sometimes sexually. Over the years the I pastored churches I would put the percentage at somewhere around 60% of the people who have passed through our doors. More often than not the abuser has been a father or a mother. Both can affect our ability to receive God as the ultimate parent.

Your natural father may have withheld good things from you. I am not talking about things nearly as much as I am about emotional needs. I worked with a young lady who was beautiful. She was involved in beauty pageants. Yet she would not accept that she was a beautiful woman. All the recognition that came from others could not make up for what her father did not provide her.

In another case, a young woman was initially loved by her Daddy. Then he went off to war and came back a different man. How many could relate to this story after decades of war in the middle east? Instead of a loving and accepting father she became the object physical and emotional abuse. How do you think she saw the “Father God?”

She is one of many, some who left the church, who could not accept teaching that required they receive God as Father. I could teach on Jesus, the Lord or the Holy Spirit, but I could not teach on the Father. They would stiffen up and get angry. Their reaction was one of pain but it kept them from knowing the Father.

Men and boys are certainly not immune. I have dealt with more than one man who was demanding and critical of their children. They could not give what their father had never given them, love and acceptance. If they did not perform up to expectations they were rejected and disapproved. They did not want to be that way with their own children but what they lived they became and another generation could not understand a Father who can love unconditionally.

There are also those who were not abused by their parents. No parents are perfect. Some people see abuse but it is in their own perception of how they were treated. They had good parents that did the best they could but the real enemy, Satan, somehow created so much strife and confusion that affect is the same. They cannot know God asFather because they cannot keep from judging him by their experience or their perception. According to John 17 none of these people, whether their experience is real or perceived, could access the power of eternal life because they cannot know God as Father.

Our Father is not like fathers who withhold good things, whether emotional or financial, from his children. He will never give us s serpent when we need a fish. He will provide us the bread of life that will sustain us and not give us a rock instead to “knock some sense into us.” He will only give us what will bless us, strengthen us, encourage us and help us to grow.

James 1:16-18 (NKJV) 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. If we come to him as Father that is what we will find.

Today, we live in a comfort and things based society. So much of how we determine good is based on what is pleasant. We are a society of the psychology of “feeling good.” If it makes us feel good it is a good gift. God will not withhold things that bring blessing and good feelings into our lives. But the word Father implies someone who knows better than we do. God will not withhold the good gift we need even at the expense of the thing we want. God loves us as we are, but like any good father he will not leave us there. He will encourage us and accept us as we are. Then he will lead us, guide us, train us and even discipline us until we become what we need to be. What gift could be better than helping us become true adults in the Kingdom of God.

God is a Father who provides good things for his children. He is an almighty Father for whom nothing is impossible. We must come to him knowing that and trusting that every gift that comes from him is good for us and will produce good things in our lives.

Come to him. Do not be afraid of the Father. He will help you understand and reveal himself to you as he really is.

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His Only Begotten Son

John 3:16-17 (NKJV) 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

In John 17:3, Jesus defined eternal life as knowing God and Jesus whom he sent. We have seen that in the context Jesus was speaking of God as the Father. Eternal life is the new life that Paul wrote about in Romans. 6. It is the abundant life that Jesus spoke of in John 10:10. We can access the kind of life that we will enjoy for eternity while we live here on earth. To do so we must know the Father.

During the Father’s Day service at our church we sang songs about how good the Father is. We heard some testimonies about the goodness of God in the lives of some of his children. All of that is both wonderful and appropriate. However, if we want to know the Father we must know him by his Word. John 1:1 tells us that the Word and God are one.

We started by looking at Genesis 1:26. We found that God is a Father who wanted his children. He said, “Let us make man in our image and our likeness.” The hope of any real father is that his children will be an extension of his own life. That is why the Father God created. Although there are many wonderful things in this thought the one that is most important is that God wanted us. God wanted me. God wanted you. Every person is a wanted child.

John 3:16 is generally considered the most read and beloved scripture in the bible. What does this verse reveal about our Father? I was the youngest of seven children but by 15 years. The brother closest to me in age was 15 when I was born and the oldest was 25. My older brothers and sister gave my parents a terrible time growing up. By the time I came along my parents were very different people. Because I had the benefit of parents who had experience raising children, they did things very differently with me.

I was the “good kid” of the family. We were catholic so the idea of being born again was something they knew nothing about. When I came home and told them I got “saved” by mother asked, “From what?” I was not the one that needed saving in their mind. I was only 14 and had not done anything terrible but we all need to be saved from our nature if not our deeds. The point is that my parents thought they had a good child.

Think of how the Father could have felt about Jesus. The whole human race was rebellious. Look at how Paul describes them.

Romans 3:10-18 (NKJV) 10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” 13 “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways; 17 And the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

The picture of God’s family is pretty grim. It had gotten so bad in Genesis 6 that he had to send the flood to preserve the few that still believed in him. It was almost as bad in Paul’s day but God had sent a different kind of solution. He sent his only begotten son.

Let us digress a bit and allow God to think as we might think. By the time I grew up, I know that my parents would not have sacrificed me for my siblings. I was the child who made them proud. They were the ones that shamed and angered them. I would not say that my parents disowned my brothers and sister, but they expected nothing from them either. When they got older I was the one who took care of them. My wife nursed my mother when she came towards the end of life. None of my siblings were around.

I do not mean to judge them. They had their lives and there were probably many things I did not know. I simply point out that my parent’s perspective could have been God’s. He had a son who was perfect in every way. He was so much in the image and likeness of God that Paul calls him the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9.) Yet in this verse we see that God gave his perfect child to save all those who were imperfect. Many who did not want to know him. Most who rejected him. Still he gave his only perfect son for us.

What kind of Father is God? He is a Father who will never abandon his family. He did not abandon them when they were far off from him and he will not abandon us now. Look at this powerful verse in Romans 5.

Romans 5:6-9 (NKJV) 6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

As we consider our failures we need to remember that God will never abandon us. As we go through trials in life we need to be assured that he will never abandon us. Even when we sin he will not abandon us. We are not the target of wrath. He will not support our sin. He cannot protect us from all of the consequences of sin. However, he will not abandon us.

Just as the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15 was there waiting for his son to return, our Father is waiting for us to “come to our senses” and repent. As soon as we do, he is there with a robe of righteousness, a ring of authority and shoes for our feet. We often miss the significance of the shoes in this story. Servants might go without shoes but never the son of a house. The Father wanted this foolish boy to know without doubt that his father had not abandoned him. Neither will you Father God abandon you.

In the story, the father says to the older son, “Don’t you know that all I have is yours?” The older son could not understand the love of the father. We often cannot process how God could love us when we have been wrong. Nevertheless, he does. There is another lesson in what the father told the older son. When the younger son came home, he had nothing except the love of His father. His part of the inheritance was gone. The older brother could help him or not.

There are times when we walk away from the Father’s ways. We do things that bring problems into our lives. The wages of sin is death. The wage is not always physical death but it is always a door for spiritual death, the nature of Satan, to come into our lives. Some consequences cannot be undone by God. The prodigal son’s inheritance was gone. When we find our selves in that position we think that the Father has left us.

Sin separates us from God. I do not believe that the sins we commit in the normal flow of life send us to hell. I do believe that they create a blockage between us and God. However, God never forsakes us. He never abandons us. He does all he can to protect us and he calls us home. When we repent, he is right there.

Remember: Your Father gave the one perfect child he had just so he could get to you. He will not abandon you now that he has you.

The Father and His Family

Ephesians 3:14-15 (NKJV) 14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

The story of the Old Testament is about a God and the nation he established. It is more than that but that is the main theme that comes through. The New Testament is the story of a Father and his family. If we do not understand that we cannot understand Christianity. In Ephesians 3, Paul points to this truth. He starts by praying to “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and continues by saying that the whole family of man, both alive and dead get their name from him. Paul wants us to know that we are God’s family and we get our identity from the Father.

God has many important characteristics that we study in theology. He is all knowing, all mighty, everywhere at the same time and unchanging. It is important to know these characteristics but as important as they are, none of them are the most important characteristic of God. The most important characteristic of God is that he is a Father. He lost access to his children in the Garden of Eden, but they remained his children. Everything has ever done has come from the father motivation. He sent Jesus because of the father motivation. Everything he does in your life is from the father motivation. If we do not understand that truth, we cannot understand God.

In the Old Testament, the division caused by sin kept man from seeing God as their Father. He was their God. Jesus changed all that with his life and ministry. He made the Father relationship available to all of us. Paul agrees. The whole human family gets its name and therefore identity from God.

I pray I have been a good father. My children tend to say I have been. However, I have been far from perfect. In the natural, there are many kinds of fathers. Perfect is not one of them. There are good fathers and bad fathers. There are indifferent fathers and absent fathers. There are attentive fathers and those who ignore their children. All of the possible types of natural fathers we may have had color our perception of God as a Father.

No natural father is perfect but God is a perfect Father. As I was preparing this message, I believe God said it to me this way. Whether we had good fathers, bad fathers or just fathers who were less than perfect we need to begin to judge fatherhood by our Father God not our Father God by our experience with natural fathers. As a pastor for 39 years, I can attest to the fact that it is easier to say that than to do it. Nevertheless, we must do it.

Let’s begin to look at what kind of Father the bible says God is. The beginning is a good place to start.

Genesis 1:26 (NKJV) 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

God said, “Let us make man in our own image.” That is what being a father is all about. The word “Father is nowhere in this verse, but the idea of making a person in our image is why we become fathers. The process of making a person in our image is what makes us fathers.

All my children look like me and/or my wife. They are made in our image. They look like us. They are all musical to one degree or another. It is in their DNA. They all have ministry calls of some kind. They can all preach the Word and they all have an anointing to leadership. It is in their DNA. They are made in my image as well as my wife’s.

Human DNA did not evolve from something else. We got it from our Father. He made us in his image. Then he told us to “be fruitful and multiply.” The DNA we got from our Father has spread to the whole world. What does that mean? It means we are genetically programed to “look like our Father.” We have his nature, his power in us. We are a spirit being just like he is and we will live forever, just like our Father. God is an infinite being. We are finite beings. That difference limits how our Father’s DNA can be expressed through us. Nevertheless, it is there.

When man fell in the garden two things happened to the Father child relationship. First, man became estranged from his father. An evil step father took our true Father’s place (Ephesians 2:3.) Second, a flaw was injected into our DNA.

In the natural, hereditary diseases are a product of a flaw in natural DNA. Many scientists believe that aging itself is such a flaw. Every cell in the body regenerates every seven years. With each regeneration, there is a flaw that grows. That flaw is what causes us to age. In the spirit, the flaw in our DNA is sin (Romans 4:23.)

In 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Paul addresses both of these conditions.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (NKJV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

When we became new creatures, he cured the DNA flaw in our spirit. The cure will not manifest in our body until Jesus returns but it is done in the spirit when we are born again. He tells us that our message is one of reconciliation. Jesus made it possible for the Father and his family to be reconciled. We are no longer children of the devil in any way. We have been made right with God and restored to full sonship.

One more thing we need to know about the Father from Genesis 1:26 is that he wanted us. “Let us make man in our image.” The creation of man was not an accident. God wanted a family. God created on purpose. He did not just want two children. He only created two in the first creation so that they would know the joy of being partners in creation. He wanted them to know what he felt as a Father. Nevertheless, every child that has been born to Adam’s race has a special place in the heart of God.

God did not create you for the world. He created the world for you. He wanted you when you were conceived and he wants you now. John 1:12-13 tells us that we were not born again by the will of men but by the will of God. You may not think your earthly parents wanted you. You may think they do not believe you can be anything of value in life. You may be right. As important as their opinion is, it is the opinion of your Father God that is more important and he wanted you, he loves you, and he accepts you. He will not leave you as he finds you. He will change you for the better. He knows who you really were made to be. Even so, he will never love you more than he does now.

That is the kind of Father God is.

Know the Father

John 17:1-3 (NKJV) 1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

This past week was Father’s Day in the United States. It is a good thing to honor our earthly fathers on their day. However, there is another Father we need to honor even more. That is our heavenly Father. In this verse Jesus points out something we must understand. He came to give us eternal life. Eternal life is not just living forever. Eternal life is to know God and Jesus, his son.

In this verse, he says we must know God, but as he begins his prayer, he addresses God as Father. The God Jesus says we must know to experience life eternal is the Father God. This is a revolutionary idea. The Hebrews were called the children of Abraham not the children of God. God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was not their Father in the sense that Jesus means it here. To the ears of the disciples, what Jesus said was a new revelation of God. It would have been strange s at best and would have sounded like heresy at worst.

Before Jesus came to the earth, the focus of the story of the bible was the nation of Israel. The individuals that we read about were overwhelmingly those whose lives had direct or indirect impact on the nation. Although there were exceptions, God moved for kings, priests and prophets. The Old Testament is the story of the nation God created to be the channel for the Messiah to come to the earth. When he finally came, the emphasis shifted to reflect God’s real purpose; saving all people.

For 3 ½ years Jesus ministered in the earth. Why did he do that. His purpose for coming to the world was to die for the sins of all mankind. He could have done that soon after he turned 30. 30 was the age of adulthood in Israel. You had to be 30 to be a priest. By the time Jesus was 30, he had lived as a human long enough to be “easily touched with the feelings of our infirmities” as Hebrews 4 describes him. Why not just die then?

Of course, there are many things we could say as to what was happening during those years. However, one of the most important things he was doing was showing the world who God really was. God was limited in how he could deal with man under the Old Covenant. Sin was still in charge of the world. Man was full of sin nature due to his fall in the Garden of Eden. The world saw God through the Jewish religion, especially the Law.

The Law was of God. Paul tells us so in Romans 7 among other places. However, the law was a necessity because of sin. The Law gave access to God for sinful men. It also gave access to men by a holy God. It could never fully reveal the true nature of God. Jesus came to do that.

In the Old Testament, God dealt with prophets, priests and kings. In the New Testament, Jesus dealt with widows, fisherman and farmers. In the Old Testament, everything revolved around the nation. In the New Testament, everything was focused on the individual. I like to think of the story of the raising of the widow of Nain’s son.

Luke 7:11 (NKJV) 11 Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd.

This is a small city of no great importance. The widow and her son were nobodies in the grand scheme of things. They were not important to the nation of Israel and we have no record of the boy or his mother after this incident. Why, then, would Jesus stop and raise him from the dead? There is only one reason. He was moved by compassion for a widow who had no hope except her son.

For three and a half years Jesus demonstrates the loving nature of God to the world. He heals the sick, raises the dead and casts out demons. He teaches things that people had never heard before. The bible says he taught as one who had authority. When he opened his mouth the heart of God came forth. As we read John 17 we have come to the end of that process. He is about to fulfill his purpose for coming to the earth. He will soon go to the cross and did for the sin of all mankind. There is one more revelation he must communicate to his disciples before he goes.

I believe the statement in todays scripture is what Jesus needed his disciples, and by extension us, to see. He does not call God the healer, the deliverer or the provider. He does not call him the God of Israel or of the world for that matter. In this final prayer for his disciples in front of his disciples he calls God Father. In verse 23 he says something that sounds simple to our ears but would have been revolutionary to theirs.

John 17:23 (NKJV) 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

God is Jesus’ Father. They could probably accept that. However, to say that God loved them as much as he loved Jesus, his son must put them in the same relationship as Jesus. God is their Father as well! This was an unheard-of idea to Jewish ears. There are sixteen references to God as Father in the Old Testament. There are over 130 references to God as Father in the New Testament. There are six in this chapter alone.

Jesus spent over three years revealing the true nature of God to the earth. Just before he leaves, he sums up everything he had revealed to them in one word. Father. God is their Father and he loves them as much as he loves his “only begotten Son.”

In John 16:25-28 he says that the “Father himself” loves the disciples. In John 20:17, after the resurrection he exhorts the woman not to touch him because he has not yet ascended to heaven. Then he makes another revolutionary statement.

John 20:17 (NKJV) 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.”

He did not say tell them I am going to my Father but to my Father and your Father. God is our Father. God is my Father. Eternal life is knowing this truth and coming to know him. This is the same word used of sexual intercourse in the bible. It says that Adam knew his wife and she conceived. There is nothing more intimate than that kind of knowledge. Without the sexual connotation, to know our Father on that level is eternal life.

Jesus provided something for us that is more powerful than we understand. In Romans 6 he says that because of the resurrection we can walk in “newness” of life. We have access to a new kind of life. This life causes us to live forever in God’s presence but it is much more than that. It is the living power of God at work in us. However, we will never walk in that life unless we “know God and Jesus whom he sent.” How must we know him? We must know him as our Father.

Fatherhood is under attack in our world. Many fathers fail their families. Fathers are often portrayed in the media as either weak or evil. I have dealt with more problems in peoples lives that come from “father issues” than any other kind. Is it any wonder that the devil wants to pollute the image of fathers? If we cannot receive God as our Father than we will never walk in the fullness of what he has for us. We must know the father but how?

I Must Decrease that He may Increase

John 3:25-30 (NKJV) 25 Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified–behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

In my last post, I looked at the last verse in this section of scripture in light of the current situation in the church. I am part of that generation that lived through the Charismatic Renewal. This move drew from the discontent of the 1960’s and revolutionized the church in the world.

Prior to the 1960’s there was a major division between the Pentecostals and the rest of Christianity. The Pentecostals believed in the present-day operation of the 9 manifestation gifts of the Holy Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 12-14. The rest of the church did not. There were many divisions among the Pentecostals and there were many divisions among non-Pentecostals but this was different in terms of how God manifested himself to and through people. The charismatic renewal changed that.

For the first time people of all denominations began to accept the reality of the present-day function of the manifestation gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking with other tongues as they did on the day of Pentecost began to cross denominational lines. A whole new classification of Christian emerged. Called “Charismatics” they had no connection to what is known as the classical Pentecostal denominations.

Charismatics challenged both the classic denominations and the Pentecostals. Neither fully accepted them but they became the fastest growing segment of Christianity through the latter twentieth and early twenty first century. They completely changed how Christianity was viewed and practiced for many millions of people around the world.

Now these “crazy Charismatics have children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren who have been in the church since they were born. It is inevitable that they must carry the torch but they will carry it in their own way to their own world. I believe we, the pioneers of the charismatic renewal changed the world. Now we must watch and find our place as it changes again. Will it be for the better or the worse. That is up to all of us.

This section of scripture describes a very similar time. John was the “new thing” of his day. Classical Judaism had become cold and dead. The Pharisees represented a system that was so steeped in tradition that they would not be able to recognize the messiah when he stood right in front of them. John challenged that system. He began preaching that there must be a personal repentance. John was preaching a personal relationship with God.

The Pharisees believed that to be right with God one must follow the Law of Moses and do the sacrifices it required. There was nothing particularly personal about their system. You might or might not feel something for God but it was not required. Keep the law. Follow the ritual of the Jewish religion and you would be in good standing. That is very much what happened in the 1960’s.

The Christianity of the 1950’s tended to be the same. They went to church on Sunday and lived ungodly lives the rest of the time. As long as they followed the ritual standards they were considered in good standing.

The people who followed John rebelled against that and so did the young people in the 1960’s. John preached a real relationship with God. The “hippies” were looking for reality. Many of them found it in a personal relationship with Christ. The Charismatic renewal grew out of the same discontent. God moved in both John’s ministry and in the Jesus People/Charismatic movement to call people back to the kind of life and relationship that he initially intended.

There is much, much more that could be said about this parallel between the Charismatic movement and the John the Baptist. What concerns us today is the fact that both of their times came to an end. There was a next step. In the case of John, he was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. In the case of the Charismatic renewal, it is yet unclear to me if we were to prepare the way for the return of Jesus, that was certainly our belief, or if we are another step in a long process that will eventually result in his return. Nevertheless, just as John’s time came to an end so has the time of the cutting-edge aspect of the charismatic movement.

There is always a next step. Jesus did not cast John aside. He endorsed him and his importance. I believe it is important that we do not forget what went before us. It is because of them that we can go forward.

Luke 7:28 (NKJV) 28 For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

In today’s scripture John was what God had been doing for some time. He represented the current move. He had challenged everything and people flocked to him. Now they were turning away from John and following Jesus. It was not easy for John’s followers to accept that. As you read on in the story you will find that even John had his doubts at times. However, it was time for Jesus earthly ministry. John had done his part. His disciples did not understand. John gave them and all of us the answer.

We must decrease that he might increase. It is not the other way around. His increase was not going to cause John to decrease. John made a choice. I believe we all have a choice to make today. I believe there is a new move of God that has begun in the spirit but has yet to manifest fully in the world. I do not know what that is going to look like but it must happen.

John did not say that my way must decrease so that his way can increase. He did not say that my generation must decrease so that his generation can increase. They were very close to the same age. He said I must decrease that he might increase. I believe we must all begin to pray the same prayer and make the same commitment.

My generation cannot hold onto the past. We changed the world. I absolutely believe that. However, this is a new time on God’s prophetic calendar. I, we, must decrease. Our ways must decrease. Our desires must become less important. What is good for us cannot be what we hold onto. It is time for his ways, his will and his desires to increase. That does not mean those of us that are older have not place. We must find our place just as John’s disciples had to find a place in what God was doing next.

That holds for the next group as well. Even as you come to the forefront and find new ways and methods you must remember that it is not about you. It was never about us. It was about Jesus increasing. You must decrease if you are going to change your world. The only answer is Jesus. Nothing else will meet the need of our world. Nothing else will move us closer to the coming of Jesus. Nothing else with bring the manifestation of God we so desperately need to day.

Let us all decrease that he might increase. If we do we will find our place in God’s prophetic move and we will change the world again.

I Must Decrease so that He May Increase

John 3:30 (NKJV) 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

This week we had the privilege of ministering in Mamaroneck, NY at Pastors John and Mary DiMarco’s great church. As I was preparing to preach, the Lord dropped this scripture into my heart. I always prepare a message. However, especially when I travel, the Lord will often lead me in a different direction when it comes time to speak. That was the case here.

This is an older church demographically at the moment. They have been in the same location for more than 20 years. They have gone through name changes, pastor changes and affiliation changes. This is unusual. Most of the time a church that has undergone so many upheavals will simply disappear. This one ended up buying the building they were renting. In Westchester County, New York property is immensely expensive. For any independent church to own a building is a miracle let alone one that has been through so much. I felt the Lord saying that this indicated that he wanted them there and that he had a plan and purpose for them.

We live in critical times. I pointed out that the church membership is physically older people. Right now, we ae seeing something of a collision between a younger generation coming into their own with many new methods and ideas and an older generation who built some powerful things. They are more in tune with the current culture and climate as well as the methods that are needed to cut through the current lifestyle with the Gospel.

That said, the previous generation, my generation, occupies an important place in the history of the church. In the 1950’s, 60’s and into the earlier 70’s the church was undergoing a tremendous transformation as we saw the last major move of God. Many things were coming together after World War II that had an impact on both the church and American culture. A great global tragedy had been averted. Those who returned from war came back with a sense of patriotism and the strength of traditional American culture. For those who waited at home, there was tremendous gratitude for the safe return of their loved ones and the preservation of our way of life.

One of the things that benefited from the post war atmosphere was Christianity and religious participation. Even those who did not enjoy the safe return of their loved ones were more likely to turn to the “god of their fathers” than to turn away. There were some powerful moves of God during those times. However, much of the religious resurgence was on a traditional level. Being a Christian became necessary for acceptance. Church membership became a plus on any resume. The morality that goes along with religion became the public rule of the day.

The problem with all that is that morality based on religion cannot overcome the sin nature of man. Outwardly people were religious and moral. Behind closed doors it was another matter. People made sure to go to church on Sunday but cheated and lied to build business and make money the rest of the week. As post war prosperity increased so did greed and the power of the dollar. He who died with the most “stuff” won.

As the children of the 50’s and early 60’s looked on, what they saw was hypocrisy and decided that religious Christianity was the problem not the answer. The result was quite possibly the most tumultuous and rebellious period in United States history. The greatest divide was between the young and the old. The young saw the older generation as shallow and hypocritical. They rejected everything their parents stood for including Christianity in many cases

As bad as this time was, there were some important positives. Free love, free sex, rock and roll and drugs were certainly a large part of what went on. Nevertheless, underneath was another undercurrent. They were looking for reality. One of the phrases of the day was, “That’s real, man.” It meant, “This thing is authentic. It is not phony and it has the potential to bring change to people and to society.”

Many turned to eastern religions as “real” or at least more real than their parents Christianity. Some turned to social and political change as the answer. Most of those in the “rebellion generation” never found what they were looking for and ended up becoming their parents. The one area they tended to stay away from was formal and traditional Christianity. Denominational churches declined and church participation declined even further.

There was a group of people in that period who found what was “real man.” They found a different kind of Christianity. They found a living relationship with a God who so loved the world he died for it. They discovered that the bible taught personal experience with the man who had come to earth and died to put all the things wrong in humanity right. The met the “real” Jesus. They were filled with the “real” Holy Spirit. The church and the world has not been the same since.

It was not only young people that were a part of this move of God. Many from every generation and walk of life found the reality that the “hippies” sought but it was the young generation of the 60’s and 70’s that fueled it. Many had tried every imaginable method to find reality. Drugs did not do it. Free sex and the counterfeit free love of the day did not do it. Politics did not give the answers they sought. Finally, they found reality. Not in religion but in relationship. Not in a church name but in a spiritual experience with a real God, Jesus of Nazareth.

Some tried to go back to their parent’s churches but most rejected them. They could not break away from the mold of the 50’s. These people did not fit the pattern of the “good church goer.” They were often dirty. They said the wrong things. They had done things most church goers in their 40’s, 50’s and beyond could not imagine. They wanted Jesus but they would not conform to anything that was not “real.”

As time went on they learned more and they made many mistakes. I have a friend in his 80’s who speaks of things as “weird, wild and wonderful.” The Christians of that generation were all of that. They brought new methods and new music. The older generation could not understand the methods and railed against “that devil beat” that was ruining young people. They saw things differently. Doctrine was not as important as reality and relationship. All of it was hard on the established religion and its proponents.

With all the bad they also brought a heart that honestly wanted God. They brought a fresh look at the Bible. Sometimes coming up with doctrines that were just wrong but often seeing things that the mindset of the last generation just could not see. Jesus seemed to look past all the “stuff” and see their hearts. They were focused on the real and that was pleasing to God. They reenergized the individual’s relationship with God. They believed in the supernatural and spiritual elements of Christianity that were often lost as denominations focused on social and intellectual Christianity.

Some of the greatest churches in history have come out of this “weird, wild and wonderful” group of people. I truly believe that Christianity was brought closer to what Jesus intended the church to be than at any time in modern society. They knew certain truths by experience and over the years built a foundation in the Word that included many of the old truths as well. Chaos gave way to a new church “norm.”

That was who we were. Now we are the last generation and are faced with the challenge of dealing with the “new ways” of the new generation. How can we avoid the mistakes of our fathers? How can the next generation build upon and improve what we accomplished without losing the ground that was gained? That is the challenge of today in the church. The answer is simple. “I must decrease that he (Jesus) may increase.”

The Nature of Christian Forgiveness

 

Mark 11:22-26 (NKJV) 22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. 25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

We have been looking at the connection between mercy and forgiveness. Forgiveness releases the force of mercy into the world around us.

I founded and pastored 3 different churches over 39 years. In that time, one of the most common things I had to deal with was the need for forgiveness. This took many forms but the one consistency was that the unforgiveness they held hindered them more than the person who hurt them. In many cases the person they needed to forgive was completely oblivious to the fact that they were causing pain to the one needing to forgive.

I found that one of the problems was the lack of understanding as to what forgiveness is. Most people will try to forgive but they wait for a feeling. When they realize they still feel the same way they think they must not have forgiven. They try to forgive again but the feeling persists. Finally, they give up and give in to the unforgiveness. What we need to understand is that forgiveness is not a feeling it is a decision we make by faith.

Mark 11 23 and 24 are classic faith scriptures. If we have faith in God we can move mountains. When we pray in faith, if we believe we have the answer when we pray we will eventually see it. That is a guarantee out of the mouth of Jesus! The one condition he puts on this is that we must forgive. We can see that unforgiveness will hinder our faith but I think Jesus wants us to see something else as well. By putting forgiveness in the faith formula, he is also telling us that we must forgive by faith.

Hebrews 11:1 is pertinent here. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. I hope to be free of the pain this person has caused me. It is the substance of things not seen. The Greek word can also mean what is perceived by the senses. I do not feel like I have forgiven. I still feel hurt. Faith in my decision to forgive and the Word of forgiveness is the evidence that I have forgiven. Feelings will follow.

I have taught this for many years. It is powerful in principle but not quite so easy in practice. I have had many times over the years where people have wronged me, or at least I believe they had wronged me. and I needed to forgive. Recently some things have happened that put me in that position in a deeper and more personal way than ever before. I realized I was giving in to bitterness. God took me to various things in his Word that made it clear I had to forgive. It has been one of the most difficult battles of my life.

I understand how it feels to fight this fight. Nevertheless, it is a fight we must win. Faith will not work if we lose this fight. We will live in pain while those who hurt us go merrily on their way if we do not win this fight. More important, the mercy of God will not flow through us to a world that desperately needs it if we do not win this fight. We can and we will win but we must not give up or give in to the feelings.

What is forgiveness really? If we are honest we cannot forgive because we believe there must be some payment for the wrong we have suffered. Often, we do not have any particular payment in mind. This feeling is usually more abstract than that. We just feel payment is due. It may be some kind of equal hurt to the person or people we need to forgive. It might just be an apology. As with everything in life, we must look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2.)

Do you remember Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness on the cross? In the middle of the crucifixion Jesus cried out, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus was asking the Father to forgive those who were actively crucifying him! Do you think Jesus would have done that if he had not already forgiven them?

No one apologized to Jesus. No one had asked him for forgiveness. They continued killing him. Yet in the midst of the pain he was in, he prayed that God would forgive them. One of the first things we must understand about Christian forgiveness is that it has nothing to do at all with the one who needs forgiveness. Your forgiveness depends on your faith and your decision. We cannot afford to wait for an apology. We cannot forgive once payment has been made. We must forgive. It is up to us and the sooner the better!

There is a legal term that I believe can help us understand what we must do. That term is pardon. In our legal system, if a person commits a crime, is caught then tried and convicted he is a criminal. Depending on the severity of the crime he or she loses many privileges people in our society enjoy. A convict will always have “a record” which disqualifies them from many jobs and will influence whether they will be hired by anyone for any job. He or she may be innocent, but that does not matter if they are legally convicted of the crime.

If a person is convicted of a crime and it is certain they did the crime it is possible for them to receive a pardon. This pardon must come from a person with the authority to grant it. Often it is the governor of the state in which the crime is committed. Most presidents, as one of the last things they do in office, will pardon people they feel are deserving. The person pardoned may not deserve it. They may have done terrible things. They may or may not express any remorse. That is irrelevant. A pardon is solely up to the pardoner. It has nothing to do legally with the one pardoned.

A convict may serve 20 years in prison but he will always be a convict. A legal pardon is different. Although people may remember his crime the government does not. The one pardoned loses no rights. He has no record. It is as if the crime were never committed even if it was. The person convicted of a crime he did not commit and serves his whole prison term carries the stigma until he dies and even beyond. The person who is pardoned does not.

Romans 4:25 says Jesus was raised for our justification. There is a little saying that defines our justification in Christ very clearly. Because of what Jesus did it is “just as if I never sinned.” I did sin but Jesus bought a pardon for me and there is no record of my sin. I can live free of guilt and condemnation even though I was guilty. I am justified. I am pardoned.

There may be a guilty party in our lives. They did the crime. They caused the hurt. However, we cannot hurt them back enough to ever feel healed ourselves. The pain will stay with us. We must remember that Jesus bought our justification. He gave us a access to a pardon by the court of heaven. We must do the same for those who hurt us. This is revolutionary, I know. It is not easy. I know that too. If we choose to pardon the offender, they will still have to deal with God but we will be free.

One last thing you need to know. This is a faith battle. The feelings may not change immediately. Jesus forgave in the midst of the pain. So must we. There may be real inequities that you feel need to be dealt with. However, we must forgive that we might be healed. Let God deal with the rest.

Once the decision to forgive is made we must apply the Word of God to our feelings. We must confess our forgivingness; not to the person but to ourselves and to God. Jesus prayed that God would forgive them. We can do the same. We must speak and meditate on the Word of God concerning forgiveness until we are healed. Eventually the pain will go and we will be free.

As I said, I have had to fight this battle recently and it was very hard. However, the stakes are too high for us to lose. The power of mercy released in forgiveness is too vital to our world today. We are not alone. We can win this battle because the Holy Spirit is within us and when we forgive we are operating in the very nature of God. He will back you up.