Pruning Leads to Restoration

John 15:1-2 (NKJV) 1  “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

We have been looking at the idea of restoration in the Bible.  I believe that this is a year where God wants to work restoration in our lives.  There are many areas of restoration.  We may have been broken and need God to fix us.  We may have lost something, or something may have been stolen from us.  God wants to restore those things to us.  Finally, Joel says that God wants to restore the years that have been “eaten” by the devil.  I am not sure what that means, but I receive it in Jesus’ name. 

Today I want to look at an aspect of restoration that we may not be so excited about but is necessary none the less.  In Joel 2:18-27 we read about God’s restoration.  God is going to do wonderful things for Israel.  However, in verses 1-12 we find that the devastation came upon them by an army of the Lord.  In verse 11 we read some things that may be a bit disturbing.

Joel 2:11 (NKJV) 11  The LORD gives voice before His army, For His camp is very great; For strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; Who can endure it?

This picture is of the judgement that comes to the people of Israel because they have disobeyed God yet again.  The restoration process begins with verses 12-17 which describes a time of repentance among the people of God with their leaders at the forefront.  It is only after that process that we see the restoring power of God.

I do not believe our Father actively brings bad things to our lives.  I do believe what Paul taught in Romans 6:23.  The wages of sin is always death.  When we allow sin into our lives, we open the door to the enemy.  God is God.  Even when this happens, we must understand that he is always in control and is working to provide a way out.  His heart is restoration.  He is by nature a rewarder, but we must diligently seek him and his ways (Heb. 11:6.)  Jesus taught something that can give light to how he deals with us today and it correlates with the process outlined in Joel 2.

John 15 is part of Jesus’ last teaching time spent with his disciples.  Beginning with the 13th chapter and continuing through the 17th chapter, Jesus is sharing with his disciples the things that are most important to him before he goes to the cross.  I think you must agree that these things warrant our attention.  In John 15 he gives us insight into how God deals with us.  The point of the teaching is that we bear more fruit and eventually that we bear much fruit.  I believe part of that involves the kind of restoration he wants to bring into our lives. 

I have heard a number of people talk about how bad 2019 was for them.  Believe me, I have had those kinds of years.  2019 could have been better for me, but on balance I have to say it was a good year.  Either way, we must understand that it is the will of God for us to be fruitful.  He does whatever he must, within the confines of his Fatherly love for us, to make sure we become all we can be in him.  In today’s verse Jesus’ reminds his disciples of something that we must remember.  He prunes us so that we may bear increasingly more fruit in our relationship with him.

I love all my children.  I am very proud of them.  Each is different and what they are doing in life is different.  I believe all of them are baring fruit.  That is what is important to me.  When they were growing up it was my job to teach them, train them and correct them so that in adulthood they would be fruitful.  Now they are out of my care, but they still have a Father watching over them and he desires we all continue to grow in baring kingdom fruit. 

In this wonderful teaching we find a number of things that the “vinedresser” will do for us.  First it says that branches which do not bear fruit are taken away.  I do not think we need to be so concerned about that.  If we are doing our best and walking in relationship with him, we are baring fruit.  It is the second thing that we need to understand.  If we are bearing fruit, he will prune us. 

There is no hope for the unfruitful branch.  It cannot bear more fruit.  It is dead.  It cannot bear any fruit.  However, those who are fruitful in the Kingdom are the ones he will prune.  What does this mean?  He will cut away the things in our lives that are keeping us from baring fruit.  He will trim the deadness out of our tree so that the life in us is free to flow to a greater and greater degree.

How does God prune us?  I believe it is primarily by the Word of God.  In verse 7, Jesus tells us that if we abide in him and his words abide in us, we will bear much fruit.  If we are pruned, we bear more fruit.  If we abide in him, we will produce much fruit.  The reason is that the life flow will be consistent.  We will not need pruning, at least not as much. 

The pruning process through the Word of God happens when we hear things that we may not want to hear.  God brings words to us that point out things that may be wrong.  James speaks of this in a slightly different way, but it contains the same truth. 

James 1:22-25 (NKJV) 22  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24  for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25  But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

He says if we hear the Word but do not do what it says, we are like someone who gets up in the morning, sees that he has “bed head” and does nothing about it.  We would not do that.  When we look into the “perfect law of liberty” and adjust our appearance accordingly, we will bear more fruit.  God does not tell us what we do not want to hear to hurt us.  He tells us because he loves us.  If a parent refuses to tell their children when they are wrong but only praises them when they are right, they grow up with a warped view of both life and themselves.  God does not want that for us.

Sometimes we refuse to heed the Word God gives us for the purpose of pruning.  Often that leads to bad things happening.  I do not think God does the bad things.  We put ourselves in vulnerable positions when we refuse to obey.  I believe God covers us for a time and keeps dealing with us.  If we still refuse, God must allow the enemy to exploit the vulnerability we have allowed.  Repentance closes that vulnerability, Praise God.

Let me bring this around to restoration.  Even when God prunes us and some things have to be removed, he still loves us.  Whatever pruning removes God will restore in a better and greater form.  The army that came upon Israel in Joel caused some extreme pruning.  However, in the end they were much better off.

If you went through some pruning in 2019, that is OK.  God is simply bringing you to a place where you can bear more fruit in 2020.  I believe the pruning we may have needed was just a part of the preparation for the better things 2020 can and will bring.  If you went through some difficulties, do not give in to condemnation.  God loves you.  The pruning is an act of his love. 

Not every bad thing is God’s pruning process.  Whether it was God pruning or the attack of the enemy that brought bad things in 2019, just know that God is not mad at you and restoration is on the way in 2020.

God Will Restore the Years

Joel 2:25-26 (NKJV) 25  “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. 26  You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, And praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; And My people shall never be put to shame.

I believe the Lord has shown me that 2020 is to be a year of restoration.  Let me review what the word “restoration” or to “restore” means.  There are three entries in the dictionary for the ideas these words represent.

The act of returning something to a place or condition (repair).  In salvation, God sent Jesus to restore us to the condition of sonship he originally intended for mankind when he created them in the Garden of Eden.  Salvation itself is an act of restoration and all other restoration stems from there.

The act of returning something lost or stolen to its rightful owner.  1 Timothy 6:17 tells us that God gives us all things “richly to enjoy.”  In 1 Peter 1:3-4 we read that God has given all things that pertain unto life and Godliness and that we partake of them through access to his divine nature by the “great and precious promises” in his Word, the Bible.  Sometimes our own unbelief, laziness or lack of understanding causes us to lose or never access what God has provided.  Sometimes our adversary, the devil, steals them from us.  God wants to restore what is rightfully yours in Christ.  That can mean finances or things.  More important are your family and relationships.  Most important of all it means your understanding of who you are in Christ and the power of salvation.

The return of a hereditary monarch to a throne, a head of state to government, or a regime to power.  God gave man dominion over the earth.  He lost that dominion to Satan when he sinned in the Garden.  Satan became the God of this world and the ruler of man.  In salvation God gave dominion back to his children through the sacrifice of his Son.  Jesus said in Matthew 28:18 upon his resurrection, “All authority (power) has been given unto me both in heaven and in earth.”  God restored the rightful rulers to their place.  Now we must walk in harmony with the Lord of the church and so that we can exercise that dominion to extend his Kingdom.

All of this is part of what God wants to do for us individually and in his church corporately in 2020.  This can mean something different to each one of us personally, but I believe it means a restoration to power, holiness and spiritual influence for his church.  The scripture above is a prophetic word spoken by Joel.  It has a meaning to the nation of Israel in their day, but as with many prophecies in the Old Testament it also applies to the church.  It is no coincidence that the first scripture quoted in the church age comes from this chapter.  On the day of Pentecost Peter stood and quoted verses 28 through 31 of this very chapter.  The New Testament is a story of restoration.

Today I want to take just a moment to point out one thing God wants to restore for you.  In verse 25 God says, “So I will restore to you the years.”  How many of you can relate to this idea?  I was saved very young in life.  I did not waste too many years living in the world.  Over more than 40 years of ministry I have heard this statement many times from those who were saved when they were older.  “I just wish I had known all this sooner.” 

We cannot change when we met the Lord.  Maybe you were in your later years.  Maybe you had a hard life in the time you lived without Jesus.  Maybe you did things you regret.  Maybe your life has become so much better with Jesus that you just wish you had all the time you waisted back.  Whatever may be true in your life, God says I will restore the years!

I am not saying you get to live those years over again, but I am saying that God can cause what you have left to be more than what you lost.  I cannot explain what this may mean to you, but it is right there in the words of the Bible.  God will restore the years.  He may give you more effectiveness in the life you live from now on.  God may give back to you financially what you have lost.  God may fix or replace relationships that were ruined by your life in the flesh.  He may heal your body and give you years of life you would not have had if you never met him.  I do not know what you need but God can and will restore the years that the devil has “eaten.”

If you are a Christian and have been for some time, you can probably look back and say, “I wish I had done more to serve the Lord.  I wish I had prayed more or worked more for his Kingdom.”  The truth is that none of us is perfect.  None of us have done all we could to grow in our relationship with God.  None of us have been completely obedient or been as diligent as we could have been.  I do not say this to stir up condemnation.  Condemnation never produces better living.  Whining will not help.  Faith in the restoration of God will.

I cannot change the mistakes I have made.  Sometimes it seems to me that the message today is that we should not strive to be better and stronger Christians.  I do not agree with that.  I refuse to walk in condemnation, but I also refuse to be mediocre.   These two ideas are not exclusive to one another.  I want to grow from glory to glory.  I want to know him more today than yesterday.  I want more power in my life, more love in my life…..More of Jesus in my life.  Unfortunately, I have not always lived in such a way as to obtain those goals.  What should I do?

I should repent of laziness and commit to faithfulness.  I should repent of anything I know is sin and commit to righteous living.  I should do as Paul did.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJV) 13  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14  I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

I should receive by faith that this is a year in which God wants to work restoration in my life.  I believe that God will restore the years I may have wasted!  I do not really know what that means, but I do know that God can do it.  He can do anything.

The truth is that there is nothing I can do about the past.  I believe in repentance when we know we are wrong.  The Bible teaches that as a key to going forward in God.  However, repentance is not about regret.  Repentance puts an end to regret.  We do not need to live in the light of past failures.  Learn from them, repent from what brought them and be done with them.  Do not let them steal your future and do not let go of anything God has for you.  This is a time to believe that God will restore the years.  I say again that I do not really know what that means.  I do know that God has promised to do it and this year I am going to make it my business to believe it.

A Year of Restoration: The Nature of our Restoration

Genesis 1:31 (AMP) 31  And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good (suitable, pleasant) and He approved it completely. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.

As we enter a new decade, I believe God has an agenda with which we need to be ready to cooperate.  2020 is the first year of this decade and a very important one.  I cannot think of a time when the election season has carried more potential for conflict than in the one that will come in 2020.  I believe God is involved in such things and that we need first to pray and second to vote.  That said, the things that we will see in the natural during the year 2020 are not what is most important.  The real power in the world comes from the spirit.  That is where Christians need to focus.

In my last post I shared what I believe God has said to me about this year.  I believe it is to be a year of restoration in my life and I believe that is at least part of God’s purpose for the church.  In Israel there was something called the year of Jubilee which occurred every 50 years.  During that very special year, every debt was considered cancelled.  All lands that had been lost to a family were returned.  If any Israelite had fallen into slavery for any reason, he was set free.  God put this into the law so that once in every lifetime all that had been lost to any person would be restored.  He or she would get a completely new start in life.  What a powerful thing that must have been. 

That was part of the old covenant.  What do we have in the New Covenant? 

Luke 4:18-21 (NKJV) 18  “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19  To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” 20  Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21  And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

In our covenant Jesus became the Jubilee.  The scripture above quotes Isaiah 61:1-2 referring to that 50-year process in the life of Israel.  He tells the hearers that the Jubilee was fulfilled in his life and eventually it was made available to everyone in his death burial and resurrection.  This was not a once in 50-year restoration.  It was an eternal restoration.  The first thing we need to understand is that restoration is a part of our salvation.  God’s purpose in sending Jesus was to restore mankind’s ability to be what he originally intended in the Garden of Eden. 

In today’s scripture we see that what God made was very good.  I like what the Amplified Bible says here.  It says God “approved completely” what he had made.  It was not only very good.  God approved of his creation.  He approved of man being in dominion over the earth.  Since chapter 1 is the overview of creation and chapter 2 is the detail of his creation of and dealings with man, we can assume he approved of Adam and Eve and the life they were to have in the Garden.  He told them that the earth would naturally bring forth everything they needed.  There was to be no struggle or labor.

Their responsibility was to “keep” the Garden.  If the Garden brought forth what they needed automatically, they would not have to cultivate it.  What did it mean to “keep” the garden?  The word has a number of meanings but central to most of them is to watch or protect.  Man was not placed in the garden to cultivate it as we would think.  He was placed there as the one who ruled it for God.  His job was to protect it and watch over it. 

From whom or what was he to protect it?  He was to protect if from any enemy.  He was to protect it from corruption of any kind.  He was to make sure it continued to fulfill God’s purpose.  Mostly he was to protect it from God’s enemy, Satan.  When we get to Genesis 3, we see that Adam failed in his responsibility.

Satan came to the woman and deceived her.  1 Timothy 2:14 tells us that Adam was not deceived.  What he did, he did with understanding.  He was in dominion.  He had the responsibility to protect the Garden.  Instead, because of a misguided understanding of his love for his wife, he went along with Eve’s sin and corruption entered God’s perfect creation.

We see in this chapter many things that came to man as a result of the fall.  None of them were good.  I want to focus on one statement.

Genesis 3:17-19 (NKJV) 17  Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. 18  Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. 19  In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”

The Garden was designed to produce what man needed naturally.  When Adam failed in his assignment to protect the Garden, the nature of both man and his environment changed.  He was no longer in dominion over life, life was in dominion over him.  The creation did not serve him, but he now had to serve the creation.  I am not saying that work is bad.  I am saying that the condition of having to live by “the sweat of your face” was not what God had in mind for Adam.

God was not willing to leave man in this condition.  He undertook a plan first stated in the 15th verse of this very chapter that was going to make it possible for man to be restored to what God had created him to be.  He was not going to have to serve creation anymore.  He would return to his rightful place as the one in dominion.  He would not have to be dominated by life; he would once again be capable of walking in dominion over it.  None of this would come to him in his own righteousness.  All of this became possible through relationship with Jesus Christ in salvation (2 Cor. 5:21.)

Because of the new birth we no longer stand in our own righteousness which God calls “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6.)  We stand before God in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  He is the one who now holds “all authority both in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18.)  We reign in him. 

This is a statement of a spiritual reality.  It is our legal position in God.  However, another reality is that God has not yet completely redeemed the earth.  We still live in the midst of the corruption left in the wake of Adam’s fall.  Why?  Because God wants more children.  When he is satisfied that the number is full, he will bring forth a new heaven and a new earth.  In the meantime, life happens to everyone, even Christians.

Restoration in every area of life is legally ours.  Nevertheless, as we live, we often fail to walk in what God has for us.  We make mistakes.  Sin gets the better of us.  Sometimes we lose what God has restored.  Sometimes we grow into new levels of restoration.  That is what I am talking about for this year.  In those times God reminds us of what he did for us in Christ.  He raises our level of faith in the power of his restoration so that we can begin to retake what we may have lost.  We also can learn to walk in areas of salvation that we never did before.  That is what we will look at for the next number of weeks.  I am truly excited for what God has in 2020.

What's Next?

Joel 2:25 (NKJV) 25  “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.

We made it!  Christmas is over for another year.  What comes next?  Every year the week between Christmas and New Years brings a shift.  There is still a little celebrating to do, but the holiday season is almost over.  The week leading up to January 1 involves taking stock of the year just past and looking to the potential for the year ahead.

It is my belief that time was God’s idea.  God lives in the eternal now.  When he created man, he set in motion things that would define time for him.  God put the sun the moon and stars in the heavens for a purpose.  The earth revolves once a day.  The moon became a marker of months and the earth’s orbit around the sun the marker of years.  Genesis 1:14 tells us that this was all according to God’s plan.  God put us in a place where the passing of time matters.

I believe this also means that God has a purpose for each year.  Ephesians 1:10 tells us that God has a plan and its boundaries are measured in time.  There was a beginning of time in Genesis and there will be an end of time when we reach what he calls the “fullness of time.”  Each year that comes before the fullness of time has a purpose in God’s inevitably moving plan.  What is the purpose for 2020?

This is also true in the portion of time that makes us our lives.  I believe God has something for you in 2020.  What he has for us individually usually fits with what he is doing corporately, but for each person, God has something he wants to accomplish in and through us this year.  There will be difficulties we must face because we have an adversary.  However, I choose to believe that God is going to accomplish something wonderful in my life and in my ministry this year.  How about you?

There is something interesting about this year.  We are not just changing years we are changing decades.  If you look at the passing of decades from a historical perspective, each decade has a place in God’s plan.  We can look at the last century and see that every decade was defined by something.  The first decade of the twentieth century was very much a transition time.  The car began to replace the horse.  Monarchies began to be replaced by democracies or some form of dictatorship as the dominant form of human government.  Social changes were taking place such as the suffrage movement for women’s right to vote.  It was a decade where things that had been accepted truths for as long as people could remember were challenged.

The teens were dominated by World War 1.  The 20’s by the relief the survival brought.  They were the “roaring 20’s” because it was a decade of celebration.  At least until 1929 and the stock market crash that led to the great depression.  The 30’s were defined by that economic tragedy.  In the latter part of the 30’s some were beginning to see an economic turn around while others were experiencing the rise of the some of the most evil regimes of all time.

The 1940’s were dominated by World War 2.  The first half by the destruction of this cataclysmic conflict and the second half by the recovery and the restructuring of the world because of it.  The 1950’s were a decade of relief and prosperity for many but a time of coming under the servitude of totalitarian regimes for others.  The 1960’s were a time of questioning everything that was established.  It was a time where there was a search for reality.

The 70’s ad 80’s were dominated by a rise of nationalism and a self-focus in many places.  The “me” generation was born as well as a rise in corporate prosperity and a money focus.  There was also an increase in great suffering in other parts of the world.  The 90’s were a time when people began to look at the state of things and once again question how things should be.  That led us to the year 2000.  In the first decade of the 21st century terrorism exploded.  Economic recession came to many and misery to many more. 

During all of this God was also moving.  In 1906 the Pentecostal revival at Azusa Street in Las Angeles California began.  In the 20’s and 30’s some of the greatest preachers since Paul came to prominence.  In the 40’s and 50’s there were moves of God that involved healings, miracles and the restoration of many things that had fallen away from the church.  In the 60’s and 70’s there was the charismatic renewal and the Jesus Movement.  In the 80’s God restored the idea of a strong aggressive faith in his Word that could change things in our lives in this world.  In the 90’s there was a refreshing that came and with it manifestations that some loved and others hated.  Still God had his way. 

I believe that the 21st century has not been a great time in the church.  Influence has diminished as political correctness and social pressures have caused the truths of God’s Word to be questioned by many in the seats of power.  The church, in my view, has gotten more soulish and less spiritual.  It looks to me more like the process that occurred in the 1950’s when Christianity became more religion than relationship.  It became more social than spiritual and as a result lost most of its power, reality and relevance.  (Some say I am just getting old but that is the way I see it.) 

So, what about the 2020’s?  I was praying and I believe the Lord led me to this scripture and the idea expressed within it.  I believe God is getting ready to restore!  The word restore carries a number of meanings.  It means to put back into the original condition.  We restore houses, furniture and cars.  I love to watch shows that take something that appears old and useless and watch as they are restored to better than new condition.

It also means to return to the rightful owner something that has been lost or stolen.  This may be lands, money, relationships or anything else that can be taken from us.  Finally, it can mean the return of a hereditary monarch to a throne, a head of state to government, or a regime to power.  To me this definition can mean the restoration of governmental things to their proper order. 

I believe the Lord is saying to me that he wants to do all those things for the church.  I also believe he wants to do them for you and for me.  God wants to return to you what you may have lost through sin or what may have been stolen by our adversary the devil.  The Bible is full of “great and precious promises” that the Father purchased with the blood of Jesus.  If you have lost some of what God wants for you life, God wants to get it back to you.  If the devil has stolen from you, God wants to return it to you. 

If you are not yet a Christian, someone who has received Jesus as your personal savior and Lord, you can be restored to relationship with God.  The idea is not like repairing something.  The new birth makes you something that never existed before.  You become completely new in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17-21.) 

Finally, I believe that God wants to bring some things back into order in the governing of human affairs.  I am not really talking about natural things.  I am talking about the place where the real power lies, the spirit.  Jesus said in Matthew 28:18, “All authority has been given to me both in heaven and in earth.”  Then he told us to go and preach to the world.  I believe God is going to begin reestablishing this divine order in the earth.  Will any of this happen in your life?  It will if you believe God for it and choose to walk in it.  God is going to restore in the 2020’s.  I choose that he will restore in my life!

In the weeks to come I want to look at the process of restoration and what God wants to bring back to us.  Join me.  I think it is going to be an exciting journey

We Can be Ordinary and Still Carry the Extraordinary

Luke 1:30-33 (NKJV) 30  Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

I want to look at the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Her willingness to be used of God opened the door to salvation for all of us.  I do not believe that Mary was anything more than a normal human woman.  I do not believe that she should be venerated in the way some others do.  However, I believe we should be grateful for her obedience.

I think it is interesting to note that what Mary brought to the equation required only that she be human and that she be willing.  It was the fullness of time as the Father defined it.  It was time to put the final phase of the plan to redeem man in motion.  The only way that could be possible was for the Father himself to take the form of human flesh.  God must become man.

The Father supplied the “God” part of the equation.  John 1:1 tells us that the Word of God and God himself are one.  Verse 14 tells us that the Word “became flesh.”  1 Peter 1:23 says that we have been born again of an incorruptible seed, the Word of God.  If we put these verses together, we understand how Mary became pregnant with the Son of God.

The angel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her.  The Word of God became a physical seed that fertilized the egg in Mary’s womb.  The child conceived was therefore divine.  The Word became flesh.  However, to be flesh he must also be human.  The human component came from Mary. 

Her obedience changed the world.  What did she have to do to change the world?  She had to do what multiplied millions of other human women had done.  She had to carry a baby, give birth to that child and be a mother to him.  She did not have to lead an army, participate in a revolution or be a political leader.  She just had to be a normal woman willing to obey God!

This gives me great hope that I can change my world.  I do not have to be something more than what I am.  I just have to be a normal person willing to obey God.  I do not have to be exceptionally gifted or talented.  I do not have to travel the world.  I do not have to have any special education.  Though God may use any or all these things, I only need to be willing to allow God to live through my humanity. 

To an observer it did not look like anything supernatural or extraordinary was happening to Mary.  For 9 months, she was a pregnant woman just like every pregnant woman before her.  I believe she probably got morning sickness.  I think she was just as uncomfortable at 8 ½ months as my wife was with our six children.  Everything on the outside looked completely ordinary.  However, the extraordinary was growing in her.

As we approach a new year, I believe we need to realize that the same Word that was in Mary is in us.  She carried the Word as a physical mother.  We carry the Word as a vessel for the supernatural God to change our world.  Our “pregnancy” does not result in a physical baby.  Our “pregnancy” can bring forth the power of God in our everyday situations.

Many Christians think they must be something more than what they are to be used of God.  The lesson we should learn from Mary is that God needs what we are.  We are human beings.  We live in the human world.  God wants access to that world.  His chosen method of gaining that access is through human vessels.  In Mary’s case, he needed someone who would carry his human form and bring it to birth so that he could redeem man.  Our job is different.

Redemption has already been accomplished.  Jesus carried his blood to the heavenly holy of holies and sat down at the right hand of God.  He does not need to be born into the world again.  We received the same seed that produced Jesus and were born again in our spirit.  He needs those who will take the seed of his Word to those who do not know him so that they can be born again as well. 

He needs a people who will carry the word of reconciliation to the world. 

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.

Mary had to be a normal human being to fulfill her calling.  She had to be willing to allow the Spirit of God to move upon her and she had to be willing to receive the seed of God’s word inside of her.  She did this at great risk.  She could have been stoned for fornication.  She could have been forced to live as an outcast.  There were all kinds of bad things that could have happened to her because of her obedience.  She chose to obey anyway, and the world was never the same. 

God always has leaders.  God gives gifts to all people.  Each one of us carries a touch from the supernatural hand of God.  We are capable of being a channel for his power to the earth.  However, I think it is important that we understand that God needs us to be real human beings.  He needs us to be factory workers and teachers.  He needs us to work in stores and even in government.  He needs us to raise families and live normal lives.  He needs us to do these things because it is normal people we must reach. 

At the same time, we must remember that although we are normal on the outside the supernatural is growing within us.  We are flesh and blood just like our neighbors, but we are also vitally joined to the supernatural God.  While Mary’s job was to produce a baby, ours is to produce disciples.  He gave Mary what she needed to do her job and he gives us what we need to do ours.

Mark 16:15-18 (NKJV) 15  And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17  And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18  they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Mary was called to produce one birth.  We are called to produce many births.  She just had to be a mother willing to obey God.  We just need to be normal people willing to obey God.  He took care of the supernatural part in Mary’s pregnancy.  He will take care of the supernatural part in ours as well, if we cooperate with him as she did. 

Get ready for a wonderful and productive 2020!

Christmas Love

1 John 4:10 (NKJV) 10  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

We have been looking at three things the world tries to incorporate into the “Holiday Celebration” while minimizing the celebration of the birth of Christ.  The first is joy.  While gifts and parties give both pleasure and happiness, joy is something far deeper.  The joy spoken of by the angels in their announcement to the shepherds has nothing to do with worldly happiness.  It is the inward, abiding sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing relationship with the heavenly Father.  The joy of Christmas is the joy of knowing that the birth of this baby was the beginning of the process that made that relationship possible.

The second is peace.  The world concentrates on the holidays as a time when we practice peace between different groups of people.  However, the peace of Christmas is the peace God made available to man through the birth and eventual resurrection of Jesus.  There was a gulf between God and man because of sin.  The birth of Jesus is the entry of the God of the universe into our world to put an end to the war between God and man making it possible for peace between them.

The final element that we hear about during the holidays is love.  We know that love of family is an important factor in our celebrations.  This is a season where the expression of the love we have for our friends is foremost in our thinking.  Love is the motivation for the giving of gifts.  All these things are worthy parts of the Christmas season.  However, they are only reflections of the real love of Christmas.

It is almost cliché to say that the gift of the babe in the manger is one of the ultimate expressions of the love of God, yet it must be said.  God created man as his family.  Man rebelled against God resulting in a spiritual union between God’s children and the God of this world, Satan. 

Man was the one who rebelled.  God had given clear instructions about what was acceptable and what was not acceptable.  God had given mankind all they could ever need.  Man lived in a paradise provided by his Father.  Nevertheless, Adam chose to follow the woman into sin.  The bible says the woman was deceived but Adam was not.  (1 Timothy 2:14)  He sinned by willful choice.  God had no obligation to save him.  He had effectively become an enemy to God.

Romans 5:8-10 (NKJV) 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. 10  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Christmas love is not about love of family.  It is not about brotherly love or romantic love.  It is the love of God that chose to reach into our sinful condition that he might buy back his children. 

It is hard to imagine the price paid by Almighty God when he was born in that manger.  Philippians 2 tells us that God laid aside his limitlessness to take on the form of man.  The creator of the universe became a baby.  He was just as helpless and physically vulnerable as any baby ever born. 

By design, he was born into the humblest of circumstances.  He was not raised in privilege but experienced every temptation and hardship that man can face.  (Hebrews 4:15)  What must it have been like for the holy God to live in the midst of the sin and depravation into which humanity had fallen? 

I love today’s scripture.  Many times we teach on the need to love God.  I believe that is true.  We do need to cultivate and express our love for God.  Yet this verse tells us the key to that love.  It is not in our repentance.  It is not in our works.  It is not in anything we can work up in our emotions.  Our love for God does not originate with us.  Our love for God is a response to his love for us.

In this verse, there are two ways in which that love is expressed.  The second is the one we usually focus upon.  God sent Jesus to be the payment for our sins.  He died for us.  In truth, this is the love of Jesus for us.  I believe he made a choice to die for us in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He asked the Father to let that bitter cup pass from him.  He did not want to do it.  In the midst of his torment he uttered those powerful words, “Not my will but your will be done!”  He chose to die for us.  There is no greater expression of love than that.  (John 15:13)

The first statement in this verse is often overlooked.  God the Father sent his son.  That was the expression of the Father’s love for you and me.  I have six children.  I would far rather experience hardship than have them experience hardship.  I would sacrifice myself for my children with little thought.  That is what it means to be a father.

A much more difficult choice is to sacrifice one child for many children.  Jesus was the only begotten of the Father.  He was the only son who walked in true love and fellowship with the him.  Even those with the greatest revelation of who God is did not understand him.  They saw him as the hard and harsh giver of the Law of Moses who would gladly punish the smallest transgression.  That is not the nature of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Jesus knew the Father for who he really was.  Jesus spent three and one half years trying to show him to the world, yet they did not see him.  Jesus was the only one who walked as a true son of God in the way God wanted for Adam.  He was the last Adam. (1 Cor. 15:45)

The love of Christmas is the love of the Father God for all his children.  It is the love which would sacrifice his only true son so that he might win many sons.  He had no guarantee that anyone would accept what he was offering.  He gave Jesus to the world anyway.

As we approach the day when we celebrate the fact that Jesus was born in the world, remember the love of the Father for you.  Let that love wash over you and respond to that love.  No one has given more for you.  If you are a parent, think about sacrificing your child for others who do not deserve the sacrifice.  That is the love of Christmas.

In this is love.  God the Father gave his son for us.  Can I do anything less than give him my life?

Peace on Earth Good Will Toward Men

Luke 2:14 (NKJV)
14  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

As we approach the Christmas holiday, we are looking at the attempt of the world to co-opt certain elements of Christmas while trying to eliminate or minimize others.  All over the United States for the last decade or so repeated challenges have been made against nativity scenes in public places.  The term “Happy Holidays” has been promoted over “Merry Christmas” as the greeting of the season.

An attempt has been made to replace the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ with an economic holiday which tries to include all religions while effectively excluding all.  The gods these people celebrate at Christmas are the gods of mammon and political correctness.  Those of us who understand that the birth of Christ is the most important event in history will continue to fight against this kind of thinking.

What I find interesting is the attempt to keep key elements of the celebration of Christ’s birth in the current celebration.  The announcement made by the angels to the shepherds includes two things that remain in the secularized celebration of Christmas.  Yesterday we looked at Joy.  In the current holiday, we mistake happiness and pleasure for joy.

We give and receive gifts and we are told by advertising that the greater the gift the more joy we will have.  We enjoy holiday parties where we engage in behavior that would not be acceptable at other times of the year with the excuse that “it’s Christmas!”  We enjoy the company of family and friends, which is a good thing but not the joy that Christmas really represents.

The joy the bible connects to the celebration of the birth of Christ is the deeper inner sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing that the Father loves us.  It is a force that flows from our spirit man because of the reality of salvation in Christ.  This joy is felt at Christmas because without the birth of Christ there could be no salvation.

Today I want to talk a little about the second thing that the secular “Holiday Season” has tried to incorporate with little success.  That is the power of peace.  I hear today’s scripture quoted during this time of year perhaps more than any other verse.  The idea of peace on earth is desirable to any rational human being.  War is terrible even when it may be necessary.  No one wants war.  We all desire to live in peace with those around us so that we may carry on life.

Using the “Holiday Season” to speak about peace on earth is noble.  Using this time as an opportunity to practice peace with our neighbor is something to be emulated and admired.  However, that is not the peace the angels speak of in Luke 2:4.

We think that the problems that lead to war and conflict can be solved if we simply decide to treat one another better.  If I am nice to the warlike person, surely, he will be nice to me.  That depends on his reason for aggression.  The truth is that the reason for conflict between people is that there is conflict between God and man.  In the Garden of Eden, a conflict began that changed man’s nature. 

According to Ephesians 2:3, humanity became by nature a child of wrath or the devil.  Man was not created to be a child of wrath but a child of the love of God.  This nature change caused a gulf between God and man.  Humanity’s new nature inevitably led them into conflict.  We see this continuing until this very day.

I have heard the term “brotherhood of man” used to describe how we should act towards one another.  The problem is that we are all brothers by the same Father.  When we reject the Father, we reject the brothers as well.  We will come together with those who have the same goals as we do.  We will come together with those who think and act as we do or who have the same beliefs and culture.  Man is at war with his Father.  That is the real problem in the earth. 

When the angels made their wonderful announcement to the shepherds, they were not talking about governments or even better relations between people.  The announcement was about an end to the war between God and man.  The angels did not speak of good will among men.  They spoke of good will toward men. 

Good will among men is how we tend to interpret their words.  That is why we think that a celebration every December 25 can somehow make a difference in how people relate to each other.  I do not say we should not treat people nicely during the Christmas holiday, but if that is all we do, we are missing the power of the angel’s announcement.

Good will toward men is something else entirely.  Who has good will toward men?  God does.  The angels are declaring that something has happened that will enable God to have relationship with his children the way he always intended to.  God was never at war with man.  It has always been man at war with God.  God has always been at war with the devil and the fall of man aligned him with the devil. 

God never stopped loving man, but he needed a way to separate man from the devil.  The birth of Christ was the beginning of a process that would accomplish this for any person who desired it.  Peace could be achieved on earth because God’s “good will toward” men could finally be realized. 

There is only one hope of ultimate peace and the manifestation of the brotherhood of man.  That hope is the birth of Christ in a simple manger in the town of Bethlehem of Judea.  That birth opened a door that the devil cannot close.  Peace among men will come because of the goodwill offered toward man in Christ. 

As with our discussion of joy, peace must also be considered in the context of salvation.  The birth of Christ was the beginning.  The resurrection of Christ is the fulfillment of what began in the manger.  The salvation the Father offered to his children did not mean a change in religion or philosophy.  That would not produce peace.  The salvation the birth of Christ initiated was far more than that.  It was the change of his nature from a “child of wrath” to a child of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 (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,

The real message of Christmas is that we can be new creatures in Christ.  The old nature passes away when we receive the sacrifice of Christ as the payment for our personal sin nature.  When we receive him as the Lord of our lives, we become fully reconciled to God.  With this reconciliation, we have the power to be at peace in our own hearts.  Inward peace can enable us to be at peace with those around us. 

The other message of the angel’s announcement is echoed in verse 18 above.  We have been given the same message the angels gave to those simple shepherds.  We now carry the message of peace on earth due to goodwill toward men.  Paul calls this message the message of reconciliation.  It is the message that tells the world, “There is no more need for war amongst you!  God has made a way for you to have true peace.  Peace with him!” 

Tell someone what the birth of this baby in a manger really made available.  Tell them the war is over!