Prayers for the Persecuted Church

John 16.33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

The church – the body of Jesus Christ – is persecuted. If you are a firm Christian, then you have likely experienced some persecution, whether you just felt like it, or it was blatant.

Countless Christians have been severely persecuted throughout history; untold numbers are suffering currently. In many countries, Christians are ostracized, beaten, imprisoned, tortured, maimed, and killed for their faith. Those who remain faithful to God, who walk in obedience to His calling and leading, must tread carefully, knowing it is imperative to walk only in the steps He directs.

In our own country, we must prepare for persecution. (Please see my last post, And So We Bring Judgment.).

Whether you pray for yourself, for those you know who are persecuted, those who suffer mild ribbing, who get the cold shoulder from their family and friends; or you pray for those who are taxed beyond what we can realize: here are some prayers to say on their behalf.

Lord God, we lift up all those who are persecuted by the world and by Satan himself.

May they palpably feel Your presence, and know You are with them in their trials. May they feel your comfort. (Joshua 1.5)

May they understand that we are praying for them, lifting them before Your throne of mercy and grace, on their behalf. (2 Timothy 1.3, Philemon 1.4)

May they depend entirely upon Your guidance as they serve You and spread the good news of salvation to a lost world, to the people around them. Give direction as to when to speak, when to remain silent, to whom to speak, and Your words. (Isaiah 30.21)

Give them discreet boldness to proclaim You in word or deed. Give them wisdom. (Acts 9.29)

May they mature in their own faith: may they read, study, meditate, and memorize Your Word as they have access. May they hide Your Word in their hearts that they might not sin against You. (Psalms 119)

As faithful Christians, may we all be reading and memorizing Your Word, preparing for when we won’t have access. (Psalms 119.11)

May they remain joyful amid suffering, forgive their persecutors, and appropriate Your great love toward all. (Acts 5.40-42)

May they continually give You praise. (Psalms 34.1-4)

May they receive comfort from those You provide for them. Send them Your people. (2 Corinthians 7.5-7)

May they continually prostrate themselves before You in confession and repentance, maintaining a clean heart and a right spirit before You. Give them hearts to early sense Your conviction. (Psalms 51.10)

May You provide them with food and shelter and comforts; and may they give You thanks for each gift. (Colossians 1.12)

May they praise You with joy in music. (Psalms 150)

May they remember that it is man who is punishing and persecuting, not You, Lord God. May they rest in the peace that is only found in obeying and following your will. (Psalms 119.78)

When they have given up everything, when everything is taken from them, and they forsake all to follow You, may they bask in Your glory and love and riches. (2 Corinthians 4.7-12)

May those who are imprisoned be free in spirit, if not in body. (1 Corinthians 9.25)

We pray Your protection, Lord God, upon those whom You call to suffering, according to Your will. (Psalms 20.1)

Use persecution to spur a revival! (2 Chronicles 7.14)

Whatever their circumstances, give them the right words, wisdom, boldness or silence, and a strong sense of Your presence. (Mark 13.11)

May they find peace in the sufficiency of Your grace, even in their weakness. (2 Corinthians 12.9)

May they draw from Your greater power. (Acts 1.8, Romans 15.13)

May they live lives to inspire those around them, friend or foe. (2 Thessalonians 3.9)

Provide peace in their personal / interpersonal relationships and daily lives (Isaiah 26.3, 4)

May they adjust their expectations to Yours, Almighty God. (1 Corinthians 2.16)

Revelations 12.11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

For more information on persecuted Christians and how to pray more specifically, see these resources:

www.persecution.com/

www.opendoorsusa.org

www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution

christianpersecution.com/

And So We Bring Judgment

In the Old Testament, God chose Israel to be uniquely His people. (Deuteronomy 14.2 For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.)

As much as He loved and blessed His beloved chosen, God’s people kept turning away from Him and going their own sinful ways. In order to bring His people back to Him, God often brought judgment upon them in the forms of pestilence, drought, sickness, and foreign invasion. Those measures would bring about temporary commitment to God, but their sins kept multiplying. Finally, God appointed Babylon to take His people captive to another land for 70 years.

Sometimes, as I read the Old Testament, I catch myself thinking, “C’mon, you guys. What don’t you get? You had God right there, you had the pillars of cloud and fire; you had God speaking directly to Moses; you had manna; you had the parting of the Red Sea and of the Jordan River; you had multiple miracles; you had the prophets. How were you so unfaithful?”

In the New Testament, God again chose His people, through His Holy Spirit, by the blood of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2.9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.)

And now I sometimes think of current Christian culture, “C’mon, people. What don’t we get? We have the Holy Spirit of God Almighty living within us; we have His entire written Word of Truth. How are we so unfaithful???”

God blesses obedience. When we are not obedient, God cannot bless us as He wishes. Sure, we live under His Hand of grace and mercy. But, as in the Old Testament, God will not always look the other way, and He will bring His people into judgment.

In America, we are a mixed culture of Christians and non-Christians. We cannot expect non-Christians to live in accordance to God’s Ways. Cannot we expect Christians to live His way?

Obviously we cannot, as millions of Christians live their lives no differently from non-Christians. I read discouraging articles about the decline of percentages of Christians believing the Bible is true; about Christians accepting philosophies from other religions as true; believing that, if you are a good person you go to Heaven; that truth is what you believe is true; that only a small percentage of active Christians actually read the Bible on a regular basis.

God’s Word is the Truth. If we don’t read His Word, how will we know what is true in a world that presents enticing arguments for a flesh-loving “truth?” How will we know how to obey Him? How will we know what will bring us the greatest joy and peace? How will we escape becoming our own gods?

If you consider yourself a Christian, but do not read God’s Word; if you don’t think that it’s important to believe every Word He says; if you believe it’s okay to absorb into your life the prevailing cultural standards and morality tenets: I say to you, where is your hope? If your hope is in Jesus, then act like it. If your hope is in your “good deeds” and your “heart for others,” I pray God’s mercy upon you to fall on your knees and repent.

Colossians 2.4 And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. Do not let people of this world entice you into believing their lies. Go to God. Read His Word to find out the Truth.

Galatians 6.7, 8 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting

Romans 8.28 says, And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Do not expect God to work together for good to you if you do not love Him. Do you love God, or do you love yourself? How do you know if you love God? He gives us the proof: John 14.15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

Colossians 3.1, 2 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

Our culture is killing itself. It’s not so much that the non-Christians are devolving into an ungodly society; it’s that God’s own chosen people are turning away from Him and turning to evil. It is God’s chosen upon whom He will bring judgment, just like the Israelites.

I used to think that we are becoming so evil that someone is going to take us over, like in Old Testament Israel; that some country will take us away captive.

I don’t know about that any more.

May I submit to you: it has already happened. We have invited evil, and it has taken over America. We are not being hauled away to another country, but we have been driven into captivity in our own land.

Look where we are: floods, hurricanes, pestilence, fires, earthquakes, heat waves, drought, excessive cold, atrocities, wars, genocides, abuses, social rage, mass murders, depression, anxiety, suicides, drug addictions/overdoses/deaths, rampant disease, decreased life expectancy, obesity, medical dependency, gender crises, abortions, sexual perversions. We have brought these upon ourselves by turning away from God.

If you are one who is still reading your Bible, voraciously devouring God’s Word and meditating on His wisdom, bless you. If you are not, I ardently encourage you to do so.

Think of the book of Daniel. Daniel and his buddies were Godly young men, living in an evil Israelite society. In God’s judgment, they were taken away to Babylon, along with all the other Israelites. Look how they prepared themselves. They must have had parents who were strong in faith. These young men knew God’s Word, knew His protection and love. They had hidden God’s Word in their hearts, that they might not sin against Him. Although they faced dark and fiery trials, they had purposed beforehand that they would remain obedient to their God. And God saved them and blessed them. They became mighty men of wisdom and character.

I read current articles about the persecution coming down on Christians: People losing jobs or facing court because of their faith; Shows on television portraying churches and Christians in foul, silly, or suspicious perspectives. Our mainstream media is advancing a portrait of Christians as radical, dangerous, and subversive enemies of the true American spirit.

Christians, be ready for things to get worse. We may soon be facing a time when we will not be allowed to read our Bibles, when churches will be shuttered, when we will not be allowed to share the good news of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ.

We must prepare:

  • Read God’s Word. Every day. Study it. Memorize it.
  • Repent of your sins. Claim God’s forgiveness, and walk in His light.
  • Continue in prayer.
  • Be a shining light for Jesus wherever you go.
  • Fellowship with other Christian saints. Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together. Go to church. Listen to Biblical preaching.
  • Sing songs of worship to our mighty God.
  • Pray God to show you what compromises you can make; and decide on those things you cannot compromise. Make your mark in concrete, and do not cross it, regardless of consequences. God blesses obedience, and He will guard you and protect you as you walk with Him.

Psalms 119.11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

Moreover, here is the beginning of Psalms 119. Read it. Open your Bible and read the whole thing. Read it again and again. Pray over it, and let God penetrate your heart, soul, mind, and spirit.

1Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.

2Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.

3They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.

4Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.

5O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!

6Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.

7I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments.

8I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly.

9Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.

10With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.

11Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

12Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.

13With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.

14I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.

15I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.

16I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

Jeremiah 18.7-10 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; 8If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. 9And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; 10If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.

2 Chronicles 7.14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Firstfruits

We’re continuing our study of Mosaic law in our Sunday School class, and this past week we delved into some of the festivals and feasts. In particular, we read about firstfruits.

In Exodus 12, God instituted the first Passover, and the Angel of Death passed over the obedient Israelites. In Exodus 13, God laid out the ritual of consecration of the firstborn – all the firstborn of God’s people were His. Exodus 13.2 Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.

In Exodus 23, God gives direction for three festivals each year: Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Harvest (the firstfruits of thy labors), and the Feast of Ingathering. These were to be solemn feasts to the Lord.

The premise of firstfruits is that we are to give back to God the first whatever-it-is that He gives us, whether it be income, friends, harvest, children, time, or other resources. God allows for payment to redeem the firstborn, because He does not ask us to kill our young.

Israel was precious to God, His firstborn of His peoples: Jeremiah 2.3 Israel was holiness unto the LORD, and the firstfruits of his increase: all that devour him shall offend; evil shall come upon them, saith the LORD. God desired to protect His people from evil.

God promises blessings when we remember Him and give Him thanks.

Proverbs 3.9, 10 Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your harvest; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.

Why does God want to bless us when we give Him the first part of what He gives us? He wants us to trust Him. He wants to give us hope and assurance. He wants us to see that we can trust Him, that He wants the best for us, that He wants to take care of us.

Romans 8.22-25 We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until the present time. Not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved; but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he can already see? But if we hope for what we do not yet see, we wait for it patiently.

We can’t see God; we can’t necessarily see His immediate blessings when we offer to Him, when we sacrifice, when we honor Him. But we hope! The more we obediently place our trust in Him, the more we are able to wait patiently for His blessings, because we learn that He is always faithful.

So let’s take this to a personal, spiritual level: I am the only one of me. God created in me a firstling: the first of its kind to be produced or to appear. There has never been, and never will be, another me.

John 12.24-26 Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, My servant will be as well. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

Do you see what Jesus is saying in this passage? He repeats it in other passages. Luke 9.23, 24: And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. Mark 8.35: For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and for the gospel will save it. Luke 17.33: Whoever tries to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. Matthew 16.25: For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Because we have the Holy Spirit within us, and because we have the mind of Christ, and because God’s mercies are new every morning; we have the opportunity to die to self every day, to give God the firstfruits. We can sacrifice our flesh to the Lord, so that it may go well with us.

Think again on Proverbs 3.9, 10 Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your harvest; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine. Honor the Lord with all He gives us, even our own selves. He will bless in so many ways, we will overflow! We will gain hope and assurance of His great provision and lovingkindness.

Be Ye Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind

Romans 12.2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

In Romans 12.2, the word transformed is from the Greek metamorphousthe or μεταμορφόω (metamorphoó), which is the root of the English terms “metamorphosis” and “metamorphize.”

How do we effect this transformation, this metamorphosis of the mind?

1 Corinthians 2.11b-16 even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. 16For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

This is how we effect the transformation: through the power of the Holy Spirit of God. We simply cannot understand the things of God without His guidance. And, as children of the Most High God, WE HAVE THE MIND OF CHRIST!

But we must work with God’s Spirit, and put our salvation to work – we must LEARN the Word of God, the ways of God.

The primary avenue of learning God is through the mind. The foundation must be God’s Word.

We learn with both our hearts and our minds. The heart may influence the mind, but only the fool allows the heart to rule. (Jeremiah 17.9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?)

We must train our hearts through the transforming of the mind.

When we learn God’s Word, the Holy Spirit works to transfer that knowledge to our hearts. This is vital, because we act on what is in our hearts – what we really believe. We know things in our minds, but we believe them in our hearts.

Proverbs 4.20-23

20My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.

21Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart.

22For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.

23Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.

As you study God’s Word, pray that it floods your heart and fills it with His Truth.

God’s Word can be a mainstay in times of trouble. In my own experience, I sometimes haven’t had the heart to read my Bible or pray. But when, in obedience, I read anyway, and I prayed anyway, God blessed that obedience. March your way through the tough times in obedience.

Allow God’s Word to cleanse you, to fill you with hope, to guide you, to bring you peace.

And, in order to set your heart aright, learn what God says; let it filter to your heart, and believe.

Still Learning Pt 1

image from messianic-revolution.com, text from King James Version

I get lots of questions swirling through my head as I read the Bible, or as I contemplate events in light of God’s Word.

I’ve been reading through Exodus of late, and I’m in the middle of constructing the tabernacle and all its furnishings and implements and tools and curtains and robes and ephods…

And I wondered: Why was God so explicit with so many intricate details in fashioning each aspect of His holy worship? I mean, I get it that He gave detailed instructions to Moses to give to the workers – they needed exact blueprints. But why record all that in His eternal Word so that all the generations to come would have available to read? We aren’t re-building His tabernacle, after all.*

Or are we?

In the New Testament, God reveals that we are now His tabernacle.

2 Corinthians 5.1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 Peter 1.13, 14 Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance;  Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.

Just as the Israelites moved around in the wilderness, and carried the tabernacle with them, we have the freedom to BE God’s tabernacle, to carry Him with us wherever we are (or maybe, it’s that He carries us).

And, just as God gave explicit detail in how to construct that tabernacle, He gives us explicit detail in how to construct our own. The entirety of Scripture is a how-to lesson for worshiping our Lord.

2 Timothy 3.16, 17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

He provides instruction in how to deal with Him, with others, and with ourselves for each aspect of life.

In addition to building our temple, God provides cleansing. He gives us Jesus, the Word, who washes us clean (Ephesians 5.26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,), the springs of Living Water to refresh us in our works (John 7.38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water).

And it’s all done in love! God designed us for worship: it’s how we receive our greatest joys and live in the greatest peace.

As an aside, I also wondered about two other things as relates to building the tabernacle:

  1. When we, as humans, plan out and design a new space, we get giddy with excitement about the doing and how it will turn out. Was God giddy?
  2. What was God’s purpose in having His people construct the tabernacle? He could have miraculously ‘poofed’ it into existence, and everyone would have been totally awed. But I think there’s something to be said about making it with their own hands. It involves ownership. Most things mean more when you work for it, except salvation. But even the gift of salvation means more when we put some sweat into it to work it out.

* I get excited to think that we CAN rebuild the tabernacle, just as God designed, since He left us His exact instruction. Each aspect of the tent, implements, furnishings, clothing, and rituals represents an aspect of Jesus, and we have so much to learn from it.

From ICR: Secret Faults vs Presumptuous Sins

Directly from this site: https://www.icr.org/article/13458/June+3+-+Secret+Faults+vs.+Presumptuous+Sins


June 3, 2022
Secret Faults vs. Presumptuous Sins
“Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.” (Psalm 19:12-13)

David, the author of this majestic psalm of praise to God for His revelation of Himself and His nature, voices his own frustration at his inability to mold his life totally in accordance with God’s revealed plan. He recognizes and asks for God’s forgiveness for his failure to measure up, and asks for strength to avoid habitual sin patterns and willful rejection of God’s way.

God had already made a careful distinction between these types of sins. “The priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him….But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously…the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him” (Numbers 15:28, 30-31).

Paul also recognized such a difference. Keep in mind that all sin is abhorrent to God and must be repented of, resulting, of course, in His forgiveness. But Paul claimed that even his blasphemous, murderous persecution of the church was done “ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). His plea of ignorance did not excuse his guilt, but through it he “obtained mercy” (v. 13) and “grace” (v. 14).

This is a “pattern to [us] which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (v. 16). Let us not be guilty of willful, presumptuous sin, but on these occasions when we do fall, we can be thankful that our “longsuffering” (v. 16) Savior still affords us such mercy. JDM

The Beginning and the End (and the End) of Egypt

Genesis 46.3, 4a And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation:  I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again

God tells His story in so many ways. We’ve got the whole Bible; and we’ve got His Spirit; and we’ve got past and present circumstances.

In the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve sin, and are cast out of the Garden of Eden. Also, they are prevented from eating from the Tree of Life (a blessing, so that we are not condemned to living in sin forever).

In Genesis 46, God appears at night, in a vision, to Jacob/Israel. He tells Israel not to fear to go down into Egypt, for God will go with Him; and that HE WILL BRING HIM BACK AGAIN.

Because Egypt is often given as a symbol of sin, I see this as a picture of the human race entering the sinful world. BUT, we are promised that God will go with us. And He is! God is with us in so many ways: Bible, Spirit, circumstances, each other…

Then, in Exodus, God leads them physically out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. I see this as a picture of our salvation. The Israelites were in bondage, and could not save themselves. God brought them out. Once in the Promised Land, the Israelites had to fight for their Promised Land, just as we must fight the spiritual battles raging all around us. I think of Philippians 2.12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; we must, once God has gifted us with salvation, work out that salvation by reading His Word and obeying His Truth.

In Exodus 12.11, God gives Moses and Aaron specific instructions on how to eat the Passover: And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’S Passover.

And verse 15: even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

Having recently read Matthew 24, (you can read it here) I couldn’t help but draw comparisons:

  • God’s people were to search for and clean out any leaven from their homes. Leaven symbolizes sin. We are to clean our lives of sin by confessing and repenting.
  • They were to be ready: loins girded, shoes on their feet. The Lord would call for them at any moment! We are to be ready for the Lord’s return at any time. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24.16-20: Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:  Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:  Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.  And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!  But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day
    • Be ready for the Lord always. He is with us right now, always; but He is coming again to take us home.

The Israelites were going to the Promised Land. So Jesus will take us to His promise: His Heavenly home to live with Him forever. Our final trip will be unlike the Israelites’ arduous journey, filled with complaining and dangers. We will rush to meet Him in the air (Genesis 46.3, and I will also surely bring thee up again and John 14.2, 3 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.), joyous and finally, finally, fulfilled with perfect peace.

Ye Ask Amiss

James 4.1-6  From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. 4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. 5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? 6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

James is such a good book. Well, of course the whole Bible is such a good book. But I like sinking my teeth into James and really chewing on it.

The fourth chapter of James speaks of talking to and relating with God. He spells out our own sinful flesh and desires, and how contrary we are to the ways of God. And he highlights the grace and faithfulness of our gracious, wonderful Heavenly Father.

Look at vs 7-10:  7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

Verse 8 reminds me of Philippians 2.12: Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Work out your own salvation. Draw near to God. God bows down and gifts us salvation. We don’t work for it; He gives it as a gift. Yet we are then to work it out. It’s WORK to draw near to God. We are to forsake all the ungodly attitudes, actions, and material things in our lives, and submit to God alone. That requires our attention and energy.

And then, look at verses 9 and 10: we are to be afflicted and mourn and weep. This is suffering, and we are to embrace it.

James 4.3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Nowhere in the Bible do I find that we are to pray for our own comfort or ease. We are encouraged to look to Jesus as our source of comfort and joy and peace; but we are not to seek a life of ease.

Look at the apostle Paul. He didn’t pray for comfort for himself. He went out and preached Jesus and got pummeled for it. We are to do the same.

“Well, I don’t want to be like Paul,” you might think. “I don’t want that kind of suffering and discomfort in my life.”

But suffering and affliction bring us closer to God. Look at the complete joy and peace Paul had, the rejoicing that poured out from him, look at his prayers that we all might experience what he had.

Paul worked out his own salvation, alright; and look at his amazing reward. I don’t think we are to go out beating the bushes and looking for trouble, mind you. Just follow hard after God, and He will direct your paths. He has promised He will not bring upon us more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10.13). And when we are suffering and drowning in troubles, we can cry out to God, and He will save us (Psalms 107). We become blind to the grace of God when we are at ease; we can see Him more clearly when we are in trouble.

When you pray, don’t ask amiss. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5.6); Submit yourselves therefore to God (James 4.7a); Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up (James 4.10).

Two Timelines

This year, for my Bible study, I am enjoying my chronological Bible. I love the perspective it brings, as it arranges everything in chronological order. I’m still in Genesis, so there’s not any difference so far; but once I get into the Samuels, Kings, and Chronicles, it really helps straighten things out for me. I’m keeping a spiral notebook to jot down major events; and of course I add lots of sticky notes as I think of “what ifs,” odd thoughts, and questions.

I posted an Adam to Noah Timeline some time ago. Now I’ve made a Shem to Abram Timeline. I find it interesting that Shem was still alive when Abram / Abraham was born and, in fact, died shortly after Abraham.

Shem was God’s chosen line of salvation (Genesis 9.26 And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem…). So God had made Himself known to Shem and his descendants; and Abraham and his family were followers of Jehovah. When Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac, he made the servant swear NOT to let Isaac marry a daughter of the Canaanites, But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac (Genesis 24.4). It was because he knew that his family were followers of Jehovah. (Evidence Genesis 24.50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the LORD: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.)

This cleared up a few things for me, because I’d wondered if God had just chosen some random pagan when He chose Abraham. Well, of course He didn’t, because God doesn’t work that way; but I liked that He filled in some info for me.

Here are the timelines:

Adam to Noah Timeline
Shem to Abram Timeline

Pastor John on Zechariah 8

As I was reading through Zechariah, and came across Chapter 8, I was reminded of a story I wrote years ago. The story included a character named Pastor John, and he gave a sermon. Here is that portion:

* * * * * *

Pastor came to the podium and arranged his things, then cleared his throat and began. “In continuing my series on sin, we are still in the Old Testament, rich in examples. We’re learning what sin is, how to recognize it, and what to do about it. When we sin, it is important to look at it, recognize it as sin, and confess it. Let the Holy Spirit work in you. I pray that is an effect of this message. My sermon this week is titled, ‘Sin, Confession, and Peace,’ and the main text is from Nehemiah Chapter 4 and Zechariah Chapter 8.” He stopped, listening to the rustle of tissue pages as the congregation turned in their Bibles to the passages.

“If you’ve read the book of Nehemiah, you know that he is a humble man of God. Reviewing his heartfelt prayers to God in chapter one, we see that he handles the Word of God rightly, and prays God’s own words back to Him. Nehemiah writes this in the first person: I heard these words, I sat down and wept, I prayed before the God of Heaven. This was a man who knew God’s Word, and knew how God’s people had broken His heart. In chapter one verses 6 and 7, he says that he prays and confesses, the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. He knew God’s purposes for His people, His plans to prosper them and not to harm them. He also knew God’s people had utterly rejected their God, their Provider, and their Protector. The prophets, before the Jews were carted away to Babylon, had told the people to go ahead and let themselves be carted away, to not rebel or make war. We see then that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and many of the priests who ended up in Babylon heeded the prophets. They listened to God, they heeded His Word, and they obeyed Him.

“So, there’s Nehemiah, serving the king of Babylon. Note first that God has grabbed Nehemiah’s heart. Nehemiah loves his God. In the first chapter, he pours out his heart to a very personal God. Secondly, God has put him in what may seem to be a menial position, that of a wine taster. This is not a menial position at all, and maybe that can be the topic of another sermon. Suffice it to say that Nehemiah has ongoing, face-to-face contact with the king of the civilized world. This is also a personal relationship: Nehemiah notes that he had not previously had a long face before the king. On this day, he is so sad that his face shows it, and the king notices! Not only that, but the king asks him what’s up. Not only that, but Nehemiah is on a comfort level with the king that he asks (albeit with knees knocking) a huge favor, and the king grants it – big time!

“Nehemiah gets to go back to Jerusalem and work at rebuilding the temple. He lets nothing distract him from his goal of making Jerusalem a center of refuge for the remnant of Israelites who lived in the region (Nehemiah 6.3). Here is a picture: The church needs to be a center of refuge. It is here for those who will avail themselves of it – to those who come. Notice, not all chose to return to Jerusalem; many chose to stay in Babylon. As today, not all choose to come to church; but we build this church, this body of Jesus Christ, for all who will come, and we invite His people to this place of refuge.

“In Nehemiah Chapter 4, while the people are building, the enemy is coming. Let’s pick up in verse 13.” He proceeded to read verses 13 through 21.

“Nehemiah lays it all out for us: When the enemy came, they 1) prayed to God, 2) set a watch, 3) continued to build and 4) kept their weapons and alarms in hand. God makes for us a wall of protection around us, not only as a church, but also individually. His Holy Spirit resides within each of us. We are His temple, as God tells us in 1 Corinthians 3.16. We don’t always walk in the Lord. We don’t always fully obey. Sometimes we allow the enemy to invade; sometimes it’s because we live in the flesh (and we like it); sometimes it’s through simply not knowing God’s Word and not bothering to find out (like David and Uzzah, when he tried bringing the ark back to Jerusalem and Uzzah died). When our walls are destroyed, we are desolate, and we lie in ruins (see Isaiah Ch. 64). Because God’s Spirit is within us, we can look up to Him and confess. He will quicken hearts, raise up people and resources to accomplish His work, and lead us. But we must be faithful to remain diligent in the work, else we return to desolation and ruin. This is exactly what happens later in Nehemiah, by the way, and what happens in each of us. Diligent in the work means staying in God’s Word and staying with the tasks to which He calls us. The book of Nehemiah outlines what they did back then, and we can use those same tools today. 1) Pray to God. Make sure you know to Whom you pray. 2) Set a watch. God’s Word tells us that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Watch out for Satan, for evil, for opportunities for the flesh. 3) Continue to build. Read God’s Word. Meditate in it. Pray. 4) Keep your weapons and alarms in hand. Peter tells us to be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. Memorize God’s Word, to keep it in your heart. Know the promptings of His Holy Spirit. Setting an alarm might mean being accountable to another person.

“While Nehemiah was building, there is no record that enemy armies are actually invading or attacking the builders, yet there were Sanballat and Tobiah with their armies, mocking. In verse 13, it says, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. Nehemiah arranged people in their families with their swords and their spears and their bows. Sometimes it just feels safer to carry a big stick, whether danger is imminent or not. He’s a wise man, that Nehemiah. The trust is in God. He makes his people ready, should the need arise, or should God call.

“Later in Nehemiah, as I said, the people again sin. Nehemiah calls them together and reads God’s Word. They are convicted, fall on their faces, and repent. Only God’s Word has the power to do that.

“In these passages, let’s look at how God’s Word is used. First, it’s their big stick. Paul calls it the sword of the Spirit. It’s how they defend themselves, and how they feel safe. Second, God’s Word brings recognition of sin, the power of conviction; and with it, the hope of forgiveness in repentance.

“Why do all this? It’s a lot of work for Nehemiah and the people, and they stand in danger. What’s the goal? What do they think they’ll get out of it?

“Seventy-five years before Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, God raised up a prophet in that city, Zechariah. Within seventy-five years, we can only guess whether Nehemiah had access to Zechariah’s writings. He may have. Whether he did or not, Nehemiah knew God, and trusted Him.

“Let’s look at what God promised through Zechariah, in Chapter 8. It’s a fairly short chapter, only 23 verses. Its wording is powerful, and worth reading aloud, so I’m going to go ahead and read the whole chapter.”

As he finished reading, Pastor John looked up at his flock and beamed.  “What a song of hope for the despairing Jews returning to their wasteland! To see what lay around them, and then to see the vision Zechariah presented to them from their God would have been a great leap of faith for these people, and a great blessing. This is what I see:

Safety: verses 4 and 5, Old men and women in the streets with children playing. This is a picture of security, showing that they will live long lives and will not be snatched away in their youth.

Unity:  verses 7 and 8, He will save His people from the east country and bring them to the west country to dwell in Jerusalem, and He will be their God in truth and in righteousness.

Purpose: verses 10 through 12, Before, there was no hire, no jobs, no peace. Now they have promises that the vine shall give her fruit, the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; the remnant will possess all these things. But 1) v 13: let your hands be strong, 2) v 16: speak the truth, 3) v 16: execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates, 4) v 17: don’t imagine evil in your hearts against your neighbor, and 5) v 17: love no false oath. These are things the Lord hates.

Promise: verses 19 through 23, Fasting shall be turned to feasting. They shall have joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. There shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities who will desire to go speedily, that they may pray before the Lord of hosts, and may seek Him. People will take hold of the skirt of him who is a Jew saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.

“These are still the promises of God to His people, when we live in obedience to Him. Praise Him! In the words of Psalm 33.1, Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. I close with Psalm 100: Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.”