A life on fire – Christ exalting

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me. I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” John 1:29 – 31

John’s life was about pointing people to Christ. In verse 31 he states “therefore I came” acknowledging that the whole purpose for everything he was about was that Christ should be revealed. He understood that the purpose of his life was to reveal Christ.

When the Pharisees asked him why he baptized, he didn’t give his pedigree. He could have pointed out that his father was a priest, that his birth was announced by an angel, that there were prophecies given of his life and ministry. He defended himself only by stating his purpose (the voice of one crying) and then announced to them “but there stands one among you”. He didn’t really need to be validated by those around him. He just needed to do what God sent him to do. That was good enough for John.

John even pointed his own disciples to Jesus. He wasn’t building his own ministry or his own following. He wasn’t interested in establishing some great work in his own name. He knew that the bridegroom was coming and it was enough for him to be the friend.

In a day when so many in American Christianity have become seduced by the “destiny teachings” that tend to focus on us, maybe we could find our way back to realizing that the destiny of each believer is simply to reveal Christ. Oh that ours also may be lives that exalt our Christ!

To be continued…

A life on fire – passionate

The Old Testament verses that prophesy John’s ministry call him the “voice of one crying in the wilderness”. That word “crying” doesn’t just mean that he was loud. It means that his crying out was a manifestation of feeling; the outward expression of what was going on in the heart of the man. He wasn’t just saying some words, fulfilling some obligation to preach. But he was releasing what was burning on the inside of him.

Matthew 3:5 tells us “Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him” – the people knew that there was something different about John. He wasn’t like the rabbis that they listened to each Sabbath, who gave lifeless instruction, but there was a quality present in John’s preaching that was unique. And it drew people.

If you went to hear John preach and took your notepad, you would probably come home with a blank paper. You wouldn’t have a list of five ways to be a better law-keeper, or ten ways to be a better Jew. But you would have come away with a heart on fire for this God that John preached.

All those years shut away in the wilderness seeking God had produced a man whose heart burned for God. He was passionate for God. And when he spoke, you knew it.

To be continued…..

A life on fire – compassionate

One of the very first portrayals I saw of John the Baptist was in the 1970’s mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth”. The character was played by Michael York, whose hair was always askance and eyes wild. His voice was loud, his countenance a bit sullen and he was somewhat of a frightening character. This has always seemed to fit well with his words, which were like flaming darts aimed at the hearts of the people. John had some strong words, especially for the religious people. Knowing what we do now about the heart condition of those Pharisees, when we read about John’s strong words to those old religious hypocrites we want to cheer because there is something in us that gets some type of perverse pleasure in seeing those people embarrassed and exposed for what they really are in front of everybody. But John’s goal was not public humiliation, but repentance.

In Luke 3:7-15 John gives a flaming rebuke to the crowd and when the people respond, he doesn’t continue to pile on the condemnation. His mission was to prepare the way and when a heart had been made tender and brought to repentance, he knew his mission had been accomplished in that one. As their hearts were pierced by his words they would come to him asking “what should we do?” And John helps them by giving them instruction on how they can obey and please God. The fiery preacher turned to gentle teacher.

Even John’s rebuke to Herod was not to defame the man, but to lead him to repentance. There is no evidence that John ever publicly issued this rebuke to Herod in front of a multitude of people. Each account of this in the gospels said that John “said to Herod”. He wasn’t trying to dazzle the crowds with his speaking ability or draw their admiration by his recklessly courageous speaking. His heart yearned for these people to be ready for their Messiah. It was a longing that burned in him and through him.

A life on fire genuinely wants to help people get right with God. Whether with a harsh rebuke or tender instruction, whatever it takes, this one longs to be a minister of reconciliation.

To be continued…

Ezekiel, the temple and …. Christmas??

I know there might not seem to be much of a connection between Ezekiel’s temple and Christmas, but as I sat here on Christmas Eve laboring through several chapters of tedious descriptions of temple dimensions, I stopped to think about what the significance of this would have been to Israel. At this time they were captive in Babylon and Solomon’s temple had very likely already been destroyed. The temple was so connected to God‘s presence that its destruction would have seemed like the removal of God from the life of the nation. Captive in a foreign land with nothing left of the life they used to know, it must have seemed hopeless. But into this darkness God spoke – I will again be in your midst.

Oh, how the Christmas bells began ringing in my heart!! 🔔

Into a dark and captive world, bound by sin and with no hope —- He has come! Emmanuel, God with us.

Oh rejoice today in what God has done! Peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Merry Christmas!

A life on fire – responsive

In considering the life of John the Baptist as an example of a life on fire, I would like to move on to the responsiveness of this life. “…the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went in to all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Luke 3:2b-3

Notice these phrases – “the word of God came” “and he went”. John didn’t sit around luxuriating in the warmth of a word from God. He recognized that the word made a requirement of him. The word came…and he went. The word makes a requirement of us as well – obedience.

Somewhere after being born again, as we become more acclimated in the Christian environment, we can find ourselves receiving the word of God in a way other than how God meant for us to receive it.  Consider what was happening in the day of Ezekiel the prophet:

“As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’  So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.  Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.” Ezekiel 33:30-32

These were the religious folks; happy to get together for church, ready to hear a message.  But they had no intention of allowing that word to impact their lives.  It was just their religious form of entertainment.  And it is just as prevalent in our day.  How many people do you know that run from church to church, conference to conference, book to book, always looking for the latest word in religion.  They aren’t necessarily just interested in the religious cotton candy that’s out there, but find an in-your-face message just as tasty.  However, the word is not allowed to nourish and bring growth to their inner man.  It makes its way to the belly and is eliminated without ever having affected the heart.   It is spiritual bulimia.

But those whose lives are on fire by God will listen with a heart to obey, to hear the very voice of God speaking to them through the message.  “Speak to me God!” is the cry of their heart, and they treasure one word from heaven over 10,000 messages from the most learned theologians.  Then, and only then, can they go with something to share with the world.

Oh let us hear!  Let us respond!  And let our hearts burn for His speaking!

To be continued…..

A life on fire – focused

“I came to send a fire on the earth and how I wish it were already kindled” Luke 12:49

These are the words of Jesus. A fire is to be kindled. A fire that He desires to be kindled. What is this fire that He longs for? As I have thought upon this passage, I keep returning to the same conclusion – Jesus is longing for the day when His followers are aflame with desire for Him. He came to send a fire on earth. That fire is this new life that He gives those who believe in Him. It is a life on fire.

But what does this look like? What is a life on fire? My meditations on this subject kept leading me back to one man – John the Baptist. He illustrates it well.

A life on fire is a focused life

John’s life was a focused life. He wasn’t into fancy clothes and fine cuisine, but was satisfied with camels hair and locusts. He was so focused on one thing that he didn’t need a whole lot of other things. And that one thing was this – I must prepare the way. John could have been a priest, with all the prestige and perks that accompanied such a life. Instead he chose the wilderness and a life of seeking God, being prepared for the work that God had created him for. When the prophet Malachi put down his pen, then began 400 years of silence from heaven. And then….

“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in thee wilderness.” Luke 3:1-2

These verses are a veritable who’s who of that day. There were many powerful leaders both in the secular world and the religious world. These were men of influence, wealth and power; respected (or at least feared) by those they ruled. But when God was looking for someone to speak through, He spoke through John. John was nobody; some obscure man living in deserted places. But he had set himself apart to seek the face of God and be a vessel prepared for His use. So God was pleased to overlook the well-known and look upon the unknown. This man who had spent his life seeking God was now to speak for God and when he emerged on the scene, his was a life on fire.

To be continued…..

The glorious face of Jesus

2 Corinthians 4:6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

We can know the power of God by the works of His hand. We can know the mind of God by the words of His mouth. But we will only know the glory of God by the gaze into His face.

Just a few verses earlier we read:

2 Corinthians 3:16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Doesn’t this bring to mind the moment in a wedding when the groom lifts the veil that covers the bride’s face and the two gaze at each other, filled with love?

Jesus has unveiled us. Our sin-clouded eyes have been washed that we might see Him clearly, and in the seeing, know His glory.

Those who only catch a passing glance of Jesus as they go about their life will never see that glory. It requires face to face. Stopping everything to gaze upon Him. To linger…beholding the glorious face of Jesus.

Running with certainty in uncertain times

1 Corinthians 9:26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty.

There are people who run for pleasure, or for fitness. They run a while and then turn around and go back. They have no particular destination. Paul wasn’t living his life without a certain aim. There was a finish line he was running towards and it was always on his mind.

It’s only the sprinter who can see the finish line from the starting line. The marathon runner knows there is a finish line although he doesn’t see it for most of the race. He will run for miles and miles and miles and never see the finish line ahead of him. He just stays on the path, knowing it will lead him to the finish.

The scenery around the path may change from time to time as he goes through a city and then past a field of flowers. He doesn’t expect it to always look the same. He just keeps running.

Within the last year many have felt they are running with uncertainty. I think of all the people in ministry who feel sidelined right now because of shut downs and restrictions related to Covid. Prison ministries are shut down. Many churches are shut down. Hospitals aren’t allowing people in to visit and pray. There are a lot of people who have been very active in ministry, running the race, but now feel like they are idle and unfruitful and the finish line seems uncertain. They were on the path and running the race and now the scenery has changed and things don’t seem as clear.

Just keep running. Stay on the path. Be faithful to do what is at hand in the moment. This is a marathon so we won’t see the finish line for a while, but the path will lead you there…to cross the finish line…to obtain the prize…to hear the words:

“Well done my good and faithful servant”

Supernatural seed

Mark 4:26-29 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Anyone who has been involved in evangelism has undoubtedly experienced the reality of this verse. Salvation is a supernatural experience produced by the power of God. I can preach the word of God until my voice fails, but if the Holy Spirit doesn’t move upon the heart, nothing will change.

For years in evangelism I put undue pressure upon myself to produce results, which led to times of great discouragement. I considered if I had said the right things or been persuasive enough. This verse has brought clarity to the role of man and the role of God in the salvation of souls.

The Lord has chosen to use men and women as His messengers. Angels may have been more efficient, but they have not experienced the saving power of God. So frail humanity has been entrusted with this noble task. Let’s consider what this parable says.

The sower is scattering seed on the ground. We know from Luke 8:11 that the seed is the Word of God. Any experienced farmer will make sure that the ground is prepared to receive the seed. Likewise, we pray that the hearts of men would be prepared by the Spirit of God to receive the seed of His Word.

While the seed is in the ground, hidden from sight, things are happening. Life and growth are being produced. For a while it is unseen but eventually it will sprout out of the ground and grow. God is at work.

During this time the farmer isn’t totally inactive. He pulls weeds, watches for insects that would damage the crops and provides water. He ensures that there are optimal conditions for growth. Again, this happens very powerfully through prayer and intercession as the work of God continues to produce life.

A glorious day will come when God’s work has produced a soul ready to be harvested, that is, brought into the kingdom. And here is the farmers joy, to reap the fruit of his labors.

Man cannot do God’s part. He is the one who saves, many times in spite of us. But He has given us a part to play as well. Let us be found faithful as sowers of the word, tending in earnest prayer to those souls who have heard.

Being flexible

Mark 2:21-22 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”

In the passages leading up to these verses we see Jesus touching a leper, forgiving and healing a paralytic, eating with sinners. The religious people hated Him for it because He just wasn’t…well…religious enough. There wasn’t enough fasting, enough rigid law keeping, enough self righteous separation from sinners. It was in this context that Jesus spoke these verses. He spoke them to people whose religion made them stiff and rigid. It made them harsh and judgmental. It shut up their hearts to those broken in body and broken by sin.

They clung to the old wineskins of their religious tradition, and when Jesus brought the new wine of a Spirit filled life, just like the old wineskins they weren’t able to receive the new thing.

These rigid religionists were mad when His disciples got something to eat on the sabbath (2:23-24), mad when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath (3:1-2), and accused Him of being devil possessed because He cast demons out of people who were bound.

Jesus just would not be like them and they hated Him for it. I supposed it never crossed their minds that they should become like Him. Rigid and inflexible, they missed the miraculous things that God was doing, and the miracle of God incarnate being in their midst.

Let God bend you, beloved. Don’t miss the glorious things He wants to do in your life by being inflexible.