A global gospel

“through Him we have obtained grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among the nations for His name.” Romans 1:5

When Jesus was physically on the earth His ministry was almost entirely to the Jews.  They were, after all, the chosen people.  In fact, the first time Peter took the gospel to a Gentile (Cornelius the Centurion), there was a bit of contention about it.

“Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” Acts 11:1-3

So Peter explained the whole thing to them starting with the vision he had from God that he should not consider unclean what God had cleansed, the summons to Cornelius’s house, and their eager reception of the gospel and the Holy Spirit.  I love the response in verse 18:

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

Every time I read that passage I can almost imagine what it was like to be there.  A holy hush came over the room as the largeness of God’s plan was revealed.  And it was startling.

This was something new to them, but not to God.  It was always part of His plan that this great salvation should be for the Jew and the Gentile.  Jesus Christ is worthy of the whole world.

Isaiah 49:6 Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’

Jesus reiterated this in Mark 16:15 when He said  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Every people group, every ethnicity, every race are to hear the gospel of grace.  The offer is extended to all, with no distinctions made.  There have been perversions of the gospel that have excluded some people or created artificial hierarchies in the kingdom.  These are all antichrist.  We see a picture of the kingdom Jesus is building when we get a peek into heaven:

Revelation 7:9-10 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

It is a beautiful multi-colored kingdom that Jesus is building. Diverse but unified in the glory of the lamb. So preach the gospel everywhere and to all people. Let the Lord be magnified among the nations. Bring His salvation to the ends of the earth.

Because He said so

Genesis 3:3 “but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ “

For the first time, I read this and realized that Eve may not have known what death was. This was before the fall. There was no death. Animals didn’t kill each other. People didn’t eat them. The warning she was given lost its effectiveness because she didn’t understand its consequences.

This is often the case-we disobey God having very little understanding what the consequences of that disobedience might be. Nobody disobeys God thinking they will be the one to die from that sin, or get pregnant from that sin, or catch a disease from that sin. When our mind is contemplating sin, the flesh’s desire for satisfaction will drown out all thought of consequences.

When our obedience to God depends upon the severity of the consequences of disobedience, we live in a dangerous place. Like Eve, we don’t always have the complete picture of what the consequences might be. When we learn to obey God just because we love Him, the consequences of sin will be irrelevant in our consideration of how to act. “Because I said so” was extremely annoying and insufficient from a parent. It is more than enough when it comes from the mouth of God.

Morning bread

Proverbs 20:13 Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.

When I first got saved 24 years ago, nobody had to tell me to get up early to pray and seek the Lord. The Spirit of God had taken up residence in me and I was excited to wake up early to spend time with Jesus.

Over the last few years as situations and schedules have changed, I had fallen into the habit of moving my quiet time to the evening and began sleeping in a bit more, even to the point of jumping out of bed with barely enough time to get ready for work. I thank God that He won’t leave us in these spiritually unhealthy habits that lead to poverty of soul without prompting us to move in the right direction. I’ve been disciplining myself back into the habit of waking up early and I have honestly found it to be sooooo beneficial. I can’t believe that I had ever stopped doing this. Mornings with Jesus make the rest of the day so much sweeter. He satisfies me with the bread of life.

What about you? Do you have a consistent morning time with the Lord or do you struggle in this area?

The two kings

Proverbs 20:8 A king who sits on the throne of judgment scatters all evil with his eyes.

Evil scatters before this king because it is afraid of him. He has the power to punish and destroy. His gaze is fierce and frightening. You dare not approach or speak to him. He has no mercy for you. His name is religion.

But there is a King who sits upon a throne of grace. The fiery love in His eyes compels me to flee from the evil in my heart and to draw near to Him. I have a King that I can approach and speak to. He loves me with an unfailing love. His name is Jesus.

Who can resist such a King as this?

Plow without ceasing

Proverbs 20:4 The lazy man will not plow because of winter; He will beg during harvest and have nothing.

Just a few weeks ago we experienced a winter storm that brought our temperature to unseasonable lows. Here in the Deep South we aren’t accustomed to or prepared for that type of weather with its ice, sleet and snow. Basically my whole state shut down for a few days and everybody stayed inside trying to keep warm.

So I have a fresh understand of why someone wouldn’t want to plow in winter. It’s a very uncomfortable time to be outside. But there are benefits to winter plowing. It’s very helpful for the elimination of weeds, disease organisms and insects. So if the farmer will push through the discomfort of the weather, he will see the removal of the things that are impairing the fruitfulness and health of his crop.

What an important lesson for us to learn.

Don’t you find that you go through seasons when you would rather be comfortable than laboring in kingdom things? Maybe your prayer life gets neglected at times. We have to admit that there are seasons of life when these things are more difficult, but that could be the exact time that the soil of our heart is being turned over and made ready for exceptional fruitfulness.

We will harvest tomorrow what we planted yesterday. A season of spiritual complacency affects future seasons. A bountiful spring isn’t likely if there has been no plowing in the winter.

Put your hand to the plow and don’t look back.

The sorrow of the tamed

I went to the zoo a few years ago with my family and have tons of happy memories. But there is one sad memory that I’ve never been able to shake off. The gorilla exhibit. I don’t know if I can adequately express what I saw in the eyes of that animal. If I had to describe it, I would say it was sorrow… a resignation to a life that wasn’t how it should’ve been. He was meant to be wild. He was meant to be free. But he is not allowed to be that and so he sits and looks at those who stop to look at him. He even seemed to pose for the pictures. What else can he do when his life consists only of what is inside of walls and gates and bars. But the look in his eyes seemed to say that he knew his life should have been something other than that. It was the sorrow of the tamed. I’m sure he was well taken care of. He doesn’t have to search for food or shelter. But he wasn’t meant to live a tamed life inside the walls of a zoo. And the nature within him would’ve told him that it wasn’t meant to be that way. I walked away feeling very sad in my heart. Not for the gorilla, but for the church.

Because to a great degree this gorilla story is a parable of much of the church. So many people sitting inside the walls… so comfortable in a climate controlled environment, the padded pews, well fed from the pulpit. Just enough God to get them to heaven but not enough to bring heaven here. I read the book of Acts, the church in the very beginning, and those were some wild people. Preaching everywhere. Defying death to make Jesus known. Risking everything. Think back in your own life when you got saved. Most of us offended our whole families by telling them they were going to hell. We lacked wisdom, but there was a fire in us for Jesus. But then some time passed and we learned how to be proper Christians… and became tamed.

Who told us that our lives were supposed to be ordinary, normal and safe? I don’t believe it was God. You may have had people tell you that you need to be balanced and to be careful that you aren’t so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good. I reject that entirely. The Bible tells us to seek those things which are above, to set our minds on things above. The balanced life that we need is to seek Jesus and be about His business morning, noon and night.

I can’t think of a single place in the Bible where we are commanded to protect and guard our lives. But I can think of many that tell us to lay our lives down, pour ourselves out, give ourselves away for the sake of Jesus and his gospel. If you love your life in this world, you’re gonna lose it. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to drop dead on the spot but that you’ll be reduced to a mere existence. Tamed.

Too often we content ourselves with reading the stories of people in other ages that have done great things for God. Always watching other people serve the Lord. Feeling a sense of envy but not the willingness to do what they did and risk what they risked.  We live without the supernatural touch of heaven on our lives and learn to lean on our own abilities and talents. God wants to be glorified through our lives, but it will only happen as we live supernatural, Holy Spirit empowered lives. The only reason we don’t have that is that we just don’t want it badly enough to press in for it.

So we will live and die… and make very little impact on this world for Jesus. Because it’s not just going to happen because you became a Christian. The impact of your life corresponds to the fire that burns within you.

I remember several years ago hearing a preacher make this statement, “if you want to go to the place where you will find the most potential, go to the graveyard. Most people died with theirs untouched and unused”.  And I remember the cry that rose from my heart… Oh God… please don’t let that be me.

The greatest sorrow of the tamed will be when they stand before Jesus. You are a steward of the gift of your life. You will spend the remaining years of your life deciding what to do with all that time.  Choose wisely.

We spend far too much time and energy getting comfortable in a temporary dwelling place.  Invest your life in eternal things.   

The board room and the birthing room

Proverbs 10:16. The labor of the righteous leads to life

I was very encouraged when I read this verse recently as I have been learning new things and stepping out in areas that have made me uncomfortable. And I rejoiced to read this verse that our labors for the Lord will lead to life. Isn’t that what we want? Christian blogger, isn’t that why you write? Isn’t it about more than just getting your thoughts and opinions out there, but about affecting lives for the kingdom of God?

For this purpose we make plans and labor to learn technology and setup platforms and produce content. This is the board room – the place of planning and activity. Without the labor in the board room there will be nothing to present to the world.

But there in another labor that must occur….this one in the birthing room. All our blog posts, podcasts and videos become merely more cyber clutter without the touch of God upon them. We can work ourselves into exhaustion in the board room but if we neglect the birthing room of prayer all our labors will be ineffective and lifeless.

The board room is organized and professional looking. Everybody admires the work done there. But the birthing room is a place of groaning, sweat and tears that we often would prefer to avoid. But we must have both.

In the board room, we bring things forth. In the birthing room, God gives them life.

Insignificant? Not to Him

2 Corinthians 8:12 For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.

For most of my life I have felt shut down by a paralyzing sense of inferiority. I wouldn’t meet new people for fear that they wouldn’t like me. I wouldn’t speak up in groups because I was afraid I would say something stupid and embarrass myself. It limited my life in huge ways.

There were a few things I felt that I had some level of gifting to do. But others were gifted in such a higher level that it discouraged me and made what I had to offer seem unimportant and insignificant.

But these are exactly the things God uses – the insignificant things.

The temptation is to bury your one little talent because it seems paltry compared to the brother or sister who has five talents. Or ten. But even the servant with his one little talent was expected to do something with it. (See Matthew 25:14-30)

Whatever little ability you have, step out in faith and use it for the kingdom. God will accept what we do for Him, in faith, with what He has entrusted to us. Those who seem so greatly gifted now probably started at the same place of fear and insecurity. But stepping out, they were increased and multiplied by God.

Mark 4:25 “For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

The right ambition

2 Corinthians 5:9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.

The Amplified Bible says it like this: We are constantly ambitious and strive earnestly to be pleasing to him.

What does it mean to be ambitious? Here are some dictionary definitions:

Having a desire to be successful, powerful, or famous.

Having a desire to achieve a particular goal

There was a time in my life when I was very ambitious in my career. I worked extra hours and took on new responsibilities. I took on hard projects and learned new things that made me more valuable to the company. I disregarded normal activities that I enjoyed because there wasn’t time for them if I was going to be devoted to work responsibilities. I would work until I was physically exhausted.

Many people have had this same experience in their work life. But how many of us have had this experience in our spiritual life?

Rarely have I pushed myself this hard in the things of God. It’s been more common for me to go to sleep then to stay up late and pray. To indulge my appetite rather than fast. To zoom through my Bible reading rather than digging in and studying to learn something new, to receive some new revelation of the glory of God.

Being ambitious has gotten a bad reputation because we often find ambition in connection with selfish and self-promoting things. But the word of God commends it when it’s directly rightly.

Beloved, let’s be ambitious in our pursuit of God and our desire to please Him in all things. Admittedly, it can sometimes be very difficult to deny ourselves the things our soul and flesh desire. But once we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good those other things will lose their savor and our ambitious pursuit of Him will be fueled by the expectation that we will taste and see even more.

A life on fire – consecrated

Previously we have considered a life on fire as it relates to John the Baptist. But as I close out this little series, we will leave John and take a peek into the Old Testament.

Lev 6:8-13 tells us about the burnt offering. It was the only one of the offerings that was given entirely to God. Every hoof and whisker was burned on that altar. None of it was taken anywhere else and none of it was given to the priest. It was wholly for God. Three times in this passage it says the fire shall always be burning. The priest tended the fire continually to make sure it didn’t go out and once the sacrifice was completely consumed, he removed the ashes. Notice that it doesn’t say that he sweeps or shovels out the ashes, but it says that he “takes them up” and it says the priest puts on the linen garments to do this. The only other place that it is recorded that the priest changes into the linen garments is on the day of atonement. These are the holy garments and this matter of a sacrifice offered wholly to God is a holy matter. He carries the ashes outside the camp to a clean place and there they are poured out.

But this is about something more than an animal; it is about my life. He wants it all for Himself. And He is the priest Who watches over the fire to keep it burning. It is only the totally consumed life that is poured out and when nothing remains of the sacrifice but the ashes that the fire has reduced it to, it is then that Jesus our high priest gathers them up. Do you see the beautiful picture? He is in the holy garments, carefully taking up what we have offered to Him. Do you see that it matters to Him when you offer yourself completely to Him? And He takes these ashes, which are your life, outside the camp and he pours us out into holy moments where our life intersects with the lives of others in what becomes a holy place. A life on fire is a consecrated life.

The word consecrate is an interesting word. When I looked it up I thought it would be defined by words like holy, separated, devoted. But what this word means is “to fill the hand”, as in when you would fill your hand with an offering that you were offering up to God. The definition of the root of this word is fullness. That was utterly shocking to me and a wonderful revelation. I had always thought of consecration as an act of emptying, but God sees it as an act of filling.

Maybe you’ve heard the stories of the men and women who walked with God so closely that their presence in a room changed the atmosphere. Many times I have wondered if these were just special people who were singled out because of the particular calling on their lives….or is this something that all believers can have – this life on fire, walking so closely with God that it is tangible to those around you. I was reminded of the story that Jesus told about those who were invited to the banquet that had been prepared and they wouldn’t come. They were just busy with other things. They missed it. Jesus waits at the banquet table ready to give what we need and what we desire….but there is a requirement. Would we go live out in the wilderness to seek His face? Can we let ourselves, all of ourselves, be put on the altar to be consumed by Him that we may be poured out for Him? Can we turn away from the distractions of this life, and just come to the table? If we could just see what He longs to give we would hunger for it……and we too could receive a life on fire.

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