Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sex, Lies, And Unthinkable Deceit

By John Stallings

Have you ever been into a jewelry store & watched the way they display the beautiful diamonds?

When the customers come in to see the rings or precious stones, they pull out a cloth of black velvet & move it under the bright light. The diamond sparkles & shines & arrests the heart of the potential buyer.

Why don’t they use a cloth of multi-colored background? ---Contrast! It’s a stark contrast for people to see the beauty of the diamond against the black background.

The Bible contains some stories that are so terrible they boggle the mind. Remember the one about Lot & his two daughters? They both got pregnant by him. Remember Dinah the sister of Judah? Remember Rahab the prostitute?

Then there’s the adultery between David & Bathsheba. What about the prophet Hosea who was commanded by God to marry a practicing prostitute? What about the murder of the little boys in Bethlehem?

If there was one chapter in the Bible I’d have removed if it were up to me [If I looked at it strictly from the human standpoint] it would be Genesis 38,-- because it’s so exceedingly dark. But the reason this black chapter is there is so that we can see God’s love & grace contrasted against the blackness.

Chapter 38 of Genesis pops out at you almost like one of those pop-up books for children, interrupting the interesting flow of the story of Joseph.

Here’s a good rule of the thumb in Bible study; if you find something that seems to be out of context or out of sync with what you’re reading, stop & look carefully for God is trying hard to get a message through.

The story of Judah & Tamar in Genesis 38 is so ugly that teachers & preachers seldom address it.

Judah, one of Jacob’s twelve sons is supposed by divine fiat to have offspring because God had promised it would happen. His kids were supposed to have kids of their own & this was supposed to happen until at last Jesus was born.

But Judah doesn’t believe this & he wanders off to do his own thing. He has no faith in all the prophecies so he goes down to Adullam & takes a pagan wife from the unbelieving Canaanites, themselves folk who don’t have any regard for the prophecies of the coming Christ.

Notice, they had people who doubted the coming Messiah just as we have people who doubt He ever came.

Judah knew better. He was in possession of the facts; he’d been raised as a member of God’s covenant & was one of God’s special people. He knew he was unequally yoked just like people in our day go right on & yoke up with unbelievers & expect good results. 2 Cor.6:14.

Judah & his wife have three sons, & they are like him, they don’t believe the promise of the coming Messiah either. All these people doubt Jesus will someday come. Does that kind of hard-headedness sound familiar?

Now, God kills Judah’s first son before he has any kids. The second son is a non-believer & wants no children so God kills him. Now this man Judah has only one son left. Judah by now is scared, wouldn’t you be? He has only one son to even try to have children & he’s afraid God will kill his last son too. [I'm trying to be polite but these men are killed because they are intentionally rebelling against God, in having sex only for pleasure & not allowing their seed to be used to produce an offspring.]

A woman named Tamar enters center stage. She was Judah’s daughter-in-law who was married to Judah’s first two son’s who died. Judah had promised her his third & only other son Shelah but he had no intention of keeping that promise.

In Matthew 5:37, the Bible says, ---- let your yes be yes & your no be no. anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

There was a custom in those days that if a man died & left no children, his brother should take the widow in & father her kids in his brother’s name so his name would not die out.

Now Judah’s wife dies. So, nobodies having any children. But how is Jesus supposed to get here if He’s coming through this lineage &, pardon my countrified speech; “they aint having no babies?”

Well, Tamar decides to fix all of this mess. Boy did she fix it? She finds out that Judah is going to Timnah to sheer sheep & disguises herself as a temple prostitute. Judah, somehow justifying it in his mind, doesn’t recognize her behind the dark veil & hires her for her services. These aren’t very nice boys & girls. Here we see a major step down for Judah as he descends into wickedness. He knew better than to sleep with a prostitute.

But Tamar bargains with Judah & asks him for a pledge, or shall we say, a deposit? They finally settle on it & Judah gives her a signet cord & a staff. A signet cord in those days was a sign of identification & a staff was a symbol of authority over his family & servants. Can you believe this; Judah is handing over his identification & authority to this “strange woman?” He’s giving up his Social Security number & his American Express credit card, voluntarily forfeiting that for this pleasure.

Don’t think too deeply about this, just think of some of the crazy things you’ve known men to do just for a few moments in the arms of some strange woman. It’s a good thing that women seem to be more forgiving than men.

Through Judah’s lack of faith he’s condemned his family but now he’s giving everything up to have what he thinks is a meaningless one night stand that can’t, as far as he knows produce a seed.

Judah finds out he’s been tricked by his daughter-in-law & decides to get his two identity symbols back & sends an offer of a goat to Tamar. What a mess!

Time goes by & now Judah is told that Tamar is pregnant, [shades of David & Bathsheba.] Judah decides that for Tamar’s deception she’s to be burned to death, him being so holy & all. Talk about a double standard. He doesn’t know she’s carrying the promised seed. The seed is now in jeopardy.

Judah has sinned by whoring around, he’s sinned by being against the promises of God, he’s sinned by marrying a Canaanite woman in the first place, this hypocrite will now sin by standing in judgment against Tamar, & having her burned to death. At this point, Judah isn’t exactly a lover of the truth. As a matter of fact he’s perfectly willing to settle for quick judgment rather than to take the time for truth & justice.

But wait, on the way to the fire Tamar produces Judah’s signet cord & staff & asks, “Whose are they?” Now comes the turning point for Judah. I wonder if he turned white or red in the face when he saw this. He recognizes the proof she has, acknowledges them & makes the famous statement, “This woman is more righteousness than I.”

Truer words were never spoken. It seems that right here Judah was converted. He’s clearheaded enough to see he’s in no position to judge Tamar because he was a greater sinner in not keeping his word to give her his son Shelah to try to produce a seed.

When people hear the truth, it often makes them angry & contentious. They want to argue rather than say, "It's me O Lord." But Judah came clean here & we can see the basic good stuff that was in him.

There can be no doubt that the Judah we met at the first of this story isn’t the same Judah we meet at the last. He started out wicked, hypocritical, self-righteous & untrustworthy & ended up humble, loving, caring & trustworthy.

So Tamar gives birth to Judah’s babies & has twins. The names of the kids will be Zerah & Perez. When the time comes, one of the twins sticks a hand out first, & this catches the mid-wife’s attention. She ties a scarlet thread around the hand & says “this one came out first.” What she is securing are the rights of the firstborn for the child.

But the other child comes out first. What’s happening is; God is interjecting Himself here & choosing the child not chosen by man. According to the midwife, Zerah is the firstborn but according to God He can do what He wants to so He chooses Perez.

This child Perez will be in the direct lineage of none other than Jesus Christ. Once again God does it His way & turns people’s plans on their heads. Doesn’t this cause you to marvel at the gracious providence of our God?

How does this story make you feel; Revolted, disgusted, shocked, horrified, embarrassed, or dismayed? Is there a messier story in the entire Bible? Yet out of all this messiness God brings the righteous Christ. God’s plans aren’t thwarted & His purposes are sure.

Yes, there has to be willingness on our part but God many times in spite of our best efforts to frustrate His plans produces great victories.

We can now see the reason God interrupted the story of Joseph; like a television channel interrupting a program to bring us an important message, God wants to show us how the linage of Jesus went from Judah to Christ. It’s plain to see that Jesus didn’t have an ancestry of noble men.

God also wants to show us the ugliness of sin & the self-delusion of sinners & how easy it is for the worst of us to pretend we are better than the best of us.

Like Judah, we see many messed up family situations today don’t we? We see divorce, remarriage, incest, physical, mental & emotional abuse, adultery, broken promises, homosexuality, pre-martial sex, & single parent homes.

It’s easy for us, like Judah, to set in judgment on all this wickedness & condemn them with gusto when some of us have done just as bad as those we condemn. Like Judah, we need to be humbled at times & see ourselves as God sees us. We might even end up saying, even of someone whose behavior we despise, “She/he is more righteous than I.”

Tamar is also a story of grace, God’s grace. God used Tamar to humble Judah & after that he started to change.

Consider this; Judah was one of the leaders in selling his brother Joseph into slavery & not killing him. Gen.37:27. And remember what Judah did years later when a cup was found in Benjamin’s sack of grain. Judah offered himself as a hostage & slave in the place of his brother. Do you see the change that took place in Judah’s life? He was changed from a very bad man to a man willing to serve & love others & it was God’s grace that brought about that change.

If God’s grace can change a man like Judah, then His grace can change the life of people we’re praying for too—no matter how great their sin & misery may be. So in actuality, this is a story of hope & comfort is it not? It’s the story of what God can do & does do in the lives of broken people.

This story is also about how God providentially preserved the family tree of Jesus. The twin boys given to Tamar were named Perez & Zerah. When you read the first few verses of Matthew, you see the names of Judah, Tamar & Perez as part of the family tree that starts with Abraham, goes to David & ends with Jesus.

Yes, Judah & Tamar & Perez are part of the family tree of Jesus. They are listed among those whom God has chosen, whom God has elected to be His special people. They aren’t exactly the kind of relatives we’d tell others about but the Bible includes them in the family tree of Jesus.

When father Jacob was on his deathbed, he called all of his sons to him, one by one. God inspired him to give a special prophecy & blessing to Judah. Judah may have lived a portion of his life as an alley-cat but Jacob called him a lion. Jacob said that Judah’s & Tamar’s line would be a royal line that would eventually give birth to the Ruler of all nations.[Genesis 49:10] This prophesy was realized in Jesus Christ, the lion of the tribe of Judah.[Rev.5:5]

It’s also awesome to note that of the twelve gates of the celestial city of heaven, God has a gate named Judah.

So now almost unthinkable things become a wondrous story of divine irony & God’s providence by which He preserves the linage of the Christ Himself. We can see what God can do with messed up, mixed up families like Judah’s & Tamar’s to carry out His great & eternal purposes in Christ.

Take note that Perez & Zerah were twins who struggled in the womb just like their grandfather Jacob & Esau struggled. You will probably also remember that the birthright in that case didn’t go to Esau, the older brother ; instead contrary to human custom it went to Jacob the younger brother.

In the case of both the sets of twins, what counted were not human qualifications, not human righteousness, or human efforts, or human custom or standards. What counts was God’s blessing & God’s providential choosing.

This story tells me that God doesn’t avoid sinners but rather by His grace He saves them, changes them & uses them. Truly,

Those who sat in darkness have seen a great light.

At first blush, this story doesn’t seem like it should be in Holy Scripture; a tradition that requires a widow to try to conceive a son with her dead husbands relatives; a man so greedy he would destroy the reputation of his brothers widow in order to take the inheritance that would go to her children; a woman who dresses as a prostitute to attract her father-in-law who doesn’t recognize her, but when he finds out his widowed daughter-in-law is pregnant he has her brought from the neighboring town so he can burn her to death for adultery.

Then as the story ends the woman pulls the evidence out that her father-in-law is the father of her children, her life is saved & she is proclaimed the most righteous one in the whole bunch. This seems more appropriate for HBO than for the Bible.

Why would this story be told at all & why should Matthew's genealogy include this motley crew? The answer to this question is part of Matthew’s root understanding of who Jesus is, and how God can work through those the world would consider unrighteous, or at least at the very bottom of the religious pecking order.

Another thing it shows us is that our race is depraved. If God can use the people in this story He can certainly use & bless our families no matter how messed up they may be.

Selfish behavior is destined to bring trouble & what looks like successful strategies in the eyes of man are not always successful. You & I apart from Christ are nothing & He’s certainly not depending on us to produce our own salvation.

You and I know the nature of God is such that He cannot & will not accept anything unholy. Tamar’s behavior is no more to be emulated than Abraham who was willing to cut his son apart with a knife. We generally won’t be called to go to distant lands like Ruth & Abraham or leave our families behind like Peter, James & John.

We don’t have to endure the hardships like the people did in the early development of the Kingdom. We don’t have to shed the blood of animals or be circumcised or baptized over & over. Christ has changed things & destroyed many barriers. Praise His Name!

If God could work miraculously as He did in Genesis 38 before the New Covenant & before His Son came to be the sacrifice for sin, think what He can do for us today, in the light of the finished work of Christ on the cross?

All we have to do is;

-lay aside every weight & the sin that doth so easily entrap us & run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author & finisher of our faith


Blessings,


John

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Five Mistakes Christians Make

By John Stallings


A couple had two boys ages 8 & 10 who were mischievous. If there was any trouble around they were usually involved.

A new preacher came to town that’d had success with disciplining problem children so they asked if he would speak to the boys.

The minister agreed to see the two so the mother sent her 8 year old first in the morning, with the older boy to visit in the afternoon.

The preacher had a big booming voice so the youngster’s eyes grew large as he asked him sternly, “Son, where is God?” The kid’s mouth dropped open but he had no response, sitting there in wide-eyed shock. So the minister asked again, “Where is God?”

Finally the preacher stood in front of the boy & shook his finger in his face & asked again as loud as he could, “SON, TELL ME, WHERE IS GOD?”

The boy screamed & bolted from the room, ran home & got in the closet slamming the door behind him. His older brother found him in the closet & asked him “What happened?” The younger brother gasping for breath replied, “We’re in big trouble this time dude. God’s missing--& they think we did it!” I realize this story doesn’t necessarily fit here but I think it’s hilarious & I wanted to tell it.

When people get desperate, or think they are, it’s amazing what they are willing to do. For example, a wife has been faithful to her husband for years, but because he isn’t as attentive as he should be, she throws discretion to the wind & has an affair.

Or a Christian young man, unwilling to continue to wait to find a Christian mate gives in & marries a woman whose faith is dubious if she even has faith. Or a Christian teenager fed-up with inconsistent parents, rebels & starts taking drugs & having promiscuous sex. The aforementioned are acceptable ways of coping by much of the world. The theme that permeates many popular songs & much of television & movies is; “whatever gets you through the night.”

Recently I was watching Jay Leno in his “man on the street” skit. He asked a man to name one of the Ten Commandments & he replied, “Freedom of speech.” A woman was asked to complete this sentence, “Let him that is without sin……. The answer came, “have a good time.”

Is our society in trouble or not? But not only are the unsaved in trouble these days, many Christians are so desperate for answers they cook up remedies for their problems that are worse than the problems themselves.

Here are some ways even Christian’s are ruining their lives.

1. ALLOWING EMOTIONS TO OVERRULE GOOD SENSE

Recently I heard a financial expert say;-“most people will never buy a car in their lifetime where their emotions aren’t deeply involved.”

I can relate to that statement although we’ve put over one-hundred thousand miles on our present car & almost a quarter of a million miles on the car we owned before that.

We do far too many things because of our emotions. Actions usually follow feelings like baby ducks follow their mother but that doesn’t mean the mother knows where she’s going.

The other day we were driving on I-4 in Orlando & suddenly came on a wall of tail- lights. We feared the worst but when we got close enough to see the problem it was a mother duck, out in the middle of one of the world’s busiest Super-hi-ways with about ten baby ducks following her. They were cute little rascals but that mother duck didn’t have clue-one as to where she was going nor how much danger she & her babies were in. I don’t know about you but I’ve learned that my emotions usually don’t know where they’re going either.

I won’t belabor it here because I’ve talked about it so much but letting our emotions rule us is always a bad idea, because our emotions & moods can change in 15 minutes for no apparent reason.

I’D LIKE YOU TO IMAGINE A SCENARIO FOR A MOMENT.

Picture a young woman, an immigrant from another country. She’s unfamiliar with the culture & the language but she’s eager to succeed & get ahead. She finds a position working for a wealthy couple in their large home. They are God-fearing people & she feels valued there & is treated like a family member.

But as time goes by she notices problems between the couple. She tells herself it’s none of her business but soon she finds her boss stopping to talk to her as she works. He confides to her there are problems in the marriage & becomes more & more affectionate towards her, which starts to make her uncomfortable.

But to whom can she turn? She has no friends & no support network. She’s completely dependant on her employers for everything. As the boss’s advances become more obvious the young girl wonders what to do. If they fire her she could be out on the street without a job or a roof over her head. This is supposed to be a good & upright man & a respectable citizen. One day her employer comes right out & lets her know he wants her to take his wife’s place in his affections & in his bed.

Did you imagine this story was taking place in a sprawling mansion of a multimillionaire? A high-rise in a big city penthouse apartment? Would it surprise you to know the original story I based this anecdote on happened in a tent made of animal skins at a desert oasis almost four thousand years ago?

Of course it was a different time & customs were different. A slave girl belonged to her owners & there was no such thing as human rights or a place to report sexual harassment. Polygamy was common & a man had a prefect right to have another wife or concubine if he wished, especially if his first wife was unable to have children.

ABRAM AND SARAH

In Genesis chapter 16 there’s this story of Abram & Sarah & their desperation to have a child. Sarah, - are you listening, - Sarah concocted the idea that her husband should have a child through their young Egyptian slave girl Hagar. How foolish does that sound to you?

Though this practice wouldn’t have raised a single eyebrow in that time & among the folk of that day, Abram & Sarah [I know her name was Sarah at this point but I’ll call her by the name that’s most familiar to us,] were abandoning their faith in God’s promise he’d made them by a covenant in chapter 15. Abram & Sarah, so faithful in their lives to this point are now scheming according to the flesh & not according to faith in something that will result in disaster for them & all who would come after them. They were making the mistake of doing God’s business for God.

It’s interesting to note in this story that when Sarah is laughing Hagar is crying & when Hagar laughs, Sarah weeps. Their fortunes & prospects are always moving in opposite directions. Note also that Sarah & Hagar both speak but never to each other. Hagar speaks to God & Sarah speaks to her husband but no one but God addresses Hagar by name. The people around her speak about her but never to her & never call her by name. You may be interested to know Hagar is the only woman in the Bible who dares to give God a name when she calls Him “El-Roi,” meaning “The God Who Sees.”

Getting back to emotional thinking, emotions will say things like; “Well I don’t know what God thinks but I’m going to do this anyway.” Or, “I don’t care if I do go to hell, its hell to live in this condition anyway.” Before you use that last line as an excuse, I’d advise you to go back & read the eighty words that were spoken from hell in Luke 16:23-31.

The second foolish thing Christians do to mess up their lives is;


2. THEY LISTEN TO THOSE WHO ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE WORD OF GOD.


Psalm 1:1 says, How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.

In verse 2-4 of Genesis 16, the deed was done. Abram & Sarah at last would have the child they’d wanted for so long. The house would soon be filled with the sounds of happiness. Sounds like its right out of a story-book doesn’t it?

But the euphoria was short-lived. Trouble was already brewing. Before the child saw the light of day tension filled the house so thick you could cut it with a knife. What was meant to produce happiness would end up producing nearly endless sorrow in areas they never expected.

Verse 2 says, -So Abram listened to the voice of Sarah.

You may say, “What’s wrong with a man listening to his wife?” Nothing; unless his wife doesn’t understand the will of God. God had spoken to Abram when he left Ur, when he left Haran, & when He made the covenant with him to give him a son. The revelation was made solely to Abram, & Sarah knows far less the he does.

It may surprise you to know how many people when seeking advice, will actually seek out either weak believers or those who don’t know God’s Word at all. As a matter of fact the surest way to make an enemy of some people is step in & tell them what the Bible says.

In Galatians 4 Paul says, --Before you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. Where then is that sense of blessing you had... Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth?

I blame Abram for what happened here just as much as Sarah, in fact he shirked his responsibility big-time when he simply didn’t refuse what she suggested & remind her of what God had promised.

The third thing Christians do to mess up their lives is;

3. THEY BLAME OTHERS FOR THINGS THEY BRING ON THEMSELVES.

Surely when the trouble started because of what Sarah & Abram did they recognized their fault & owned up to all this, right? Wrong!

After the baby comes Hagar is suddenly elevated from the position of slave to second wife. She now had two things to hold over Sarah’s head; she’s younger & she can have babies. From Sarah’s vantage point this wasn’t the way it was supposed to work out.

But when we resort to fleshly schemes things never work out like we expected.

Whew! But there’s a bright spot here. As soon as it dawned on her what she’d done, Sarah humbled herself & went to her husband & apologized for her ill-fated suggestion. Right? Wrong again! She blamed Abram. That’s right, she’s blaming him. It’s hard to believe that this is the same woman who’s held up to us in the New Testament as a model wife. But to be fair, everyone in this story is just doing what comes “naturally” not obeying God & doing things His way.

It’s very common for people to blame others when their own chickens come home to roost. A sure sign of spiritual immaturity is when people refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions.

I used the story in a message some time ago about a small airline operating out of South America. Most of the clients were missionaries who were shuttled around in the light planes owned & operated by this fledgling air-transport company.

One day one of the planes took off carrying several missionaries & two well known Bible translators to a remote area. The plane had been airborne just a few minutes when it burst into flames & crashed killing all aboard.

When the news reached the headquarters of the little airline where the plane took off & all the planes were serviced, a Christian mechanic took the news hard. The reason he took the news so hard was he remembered his hands were the last to touch the ill-fated aircraft before it left. As he contemplated it, he remembered that in the process of servicing the plane, he’d left a cap off a gas tank. He’d made a mental note to come back & secure the cap but had forgotten to do so.

One of the things that made the story so unusual was that the mechanic didn’t have to tell his story to anyone, but he was convinced his mistake had caused the plane to crash. I was impressed by that story for so many reasons, not the least of which was that mechanic was one in ten-thousand who’d implicate themselves when it would have been easier to just keep quiet about the part they played in the tragedy.

However, life seems to happen less in a linear manner than cyclical, & this man knew in his heart that in the long run he’d be more a candidate for God’s grace to help put it behind him & experience healing if he was open & honest about his mistake, rather than just bottling it all up inside himself.

If we can’t come clean about our mistakes we’re much more likely to repeat them. Many people stagger through life from one crisis to the next, battered, bruised & taken advantage of & it never occurs to them that they hold the key to changing things, but they’re too proud to admit they’re wrong. The wife blames the husband as Sarah did here & as Adam did in the Garden when he told God, The woman thou gavest to be with me she gave me from the tree & I ate.

The fourth thing Christians do to mess-up their life is;

4. THEY COMPROMISE THEIR CONVICTIONS FOR THE SAKE OF KEEPING PEACE.

Doesn’t it seem to you that its time for Abraham to take the bull by the horns in this story? Isn’t it about time he administered the Word of God to his bickering family?

He could have started by saying, “Guys, this all started because I let it happen. I didn’t have to consent to this fleshly scheme but I did & I was wrong. But Sarah, honey, I need you to own up to your guilt & admit it was your idea in the beginning. You brought this on yourself so its high-time you stopped pointing your finger at everyone but yourself; OK? You should have stopped & considered how Hagar was going to react in all this. And Oh, Hagar, girl you need to climb off your high-horse & remember you’re still a servant in this house & you must treat Sarah with respect because she’s my wife.”

So does Abraham start sorting it all out & put things back in order in his house? Nope! Abram turns out to be more of a push-over than a patriarch in this situation. Let’s face it; Abram didn’t want to deal with two bickering women so it’s much easier in this incidence for him to be a mouse than a man.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that men be overbearing with their wives, a thousand times no. But the husband is supposed to be the leader of his home & sadly many men don’t even know what that means. Godly pastors are preaching & teaching it all over America but men aren’t showing up to hear it. In America’s homes today about the only way a man’s going to rise up & breath fire is if someone misplaces the TV remote. Wives are frustrated, children are exasperated & many men are pusillanimous passives.

Twice during the difficult years of this story Hagar left Abraham’s camp. Once was just before Ishmael’s birth when she ran away because of conflicts that arose between herself & her mistress Sarah. On this occasion an angel from the Lord told her to go back to Abram & Sarah—perhaps because as a runaway slave she’d have no means of support & care for her baby outside their household.

The angel also told her she’d bear a son & that she should call him Ishmael the name that means “God hears.” Fourteen years later Hagar left Abram’s home again this time Ishmael was a young man. Not surprisingly his stock in the family had gone down with the birth of the promised child Isaac. The conflict was so bad Abram sent them away but God spoke to Hagar again & provided water when her son was dying of thirst. God also provided encouragement for her & Ishmael as he led them into a new life. Certainly Hagar was marginalized if not victimized in this situation, a woman without value & standing in the eyes of man. Though God didn’t plan to send the promised son through her, & she wasn’t the lawful wife of Abram, He didn’t see her as insignificant, nor ignore her. God saw her, He spoke to her & he reached out & touched this woman who had no reason to believe her life was of any value to anybody.

Most people know that what we are seeing in the Middle East today, the bombings that are in the news almost daily is the fruit of Hagar’s son Ishmael being born; the fruit of what went on ‘behind the tent flaps” of Abram & Sarah’s household so many years ago when they left God out of their planning & took up fleshly methods rather than rely on the promises of God.

The fifth thing Christians do to mess-up their life is;


5. THEY JUST AREN’T WILLING TO WAIT FOR THE GOOD THINGS GOD HAS FOR THEM.


Nobody likes to wait. As a matter of fact our culture hates to wait. Waiting isn’t one of our strong traits. Make us wait too long & we’re pretty sure something is wrong. Waiting frustrates us, makes us mean, challenges our faith & tempts us to lose hope. There’s a name for people who can patiently wait without going nutso. They’re called saints. Many people however if forced to wait too long, give up & become cynics making the decision to just coast through life. They become permanently disappointed with God & man.

Here’s where young people get in trouble in our materialistic society. They look at what mom & dad have, maybe three cars, an RV, a five bedroom house, flat-screen TVs all over the place, plus a quarter of a million in their retirement account. Not understanding that it took the parents 45 years of working their fingers to the bone to accumulate what they have, the young person sets out to have what the parents have, but they want it NOW!

And just how are these young folk going to do this? Easy! ---Think with me about the credit card you have in your wallet or purse. Did you know it’s a “time machine?” Oh yes, that card at least for a while can reach out & grab the future & pull it right into your present. I’ll bet you never thought about it that way did you? Each day people are charging their way into the future because they’re too impatient to wait for the future to come.

Saving is such a slow & tedious way to work toward home ownership that people have signed for mortgages they can barely afford. Also it’s hard for young people to wait for marriage to have sex so fewer & fewer couples are waiting.

Are you waiting for something big to happen in your life, your marriage, your health, finances or even your ministry? Will you let me tell you something extremely important?

 Here it is;--LIFE IS PRETTY MUCH A WAITING GAME. Let me go a little further. Life is slow, tedious, many times mundane & is so full of waiting if you’re not careful it can cause you to do something crazy; that is if you don’t know what I’ve just told you. Life includes seasons of running & seasons of waiting with a lot more valley time than mountain-top time.

If you’ve read many of my messages you’ve heard me say—God isn’t a time-dweller & isn’t impressed with time as we are. He calls on us to wait.

God wants us to wait in humility because He’s the king & we’re His subjects. He’s in charge. He knows when the time is right.

Waiting doesn’t mean we’ve been bad or that God is angry at us. Waiting doesn’t mean we’re lost or that God is punishing us.

Let us not grow weary of waiting like Abram & Sarah did & produce Ishmaels in our lives. Let’s not try to jump from mountain-top to mountain-top so we can live on a “false high” all the time.

Waiting doesn’t necessarily even mean that we are in need of repentance of some sin. Waiting just means that we need to be faithful & continue serving God in life’s routines.

In Hagar’s grief & agony, in her shame & hopelessness she cried out to the God of the helpless & the hopeless. The God who saw Hagar also sees you. He sees your need. He sees, knows & cares about your feelings & wants you to reach out to Him. Will you turn to Him? This story reminds us there’s a wonderful wideness in God’s unassailable love.

I invite you to remember with me this marvelous verse;

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run & not be weary & they shall walk & not faint.—Ish. 40:31


Blessings,

John

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"I Can See Clearly Now...."

By John Stallings


Back in 1972 a little song called “I can see clearly now  entered the American music lexicon without much fanfare. But, as they say, it had legs.

There are few people on the planet who haven’t heard it at least once and it somehow seems to stick with you.

I don’t begrudge Johnny Nash his song but as I’ve said about lots of pop songs, I wish some gospel writer could have thought of it first and written it around a spiritual theme.

The words to the chorus are;

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

In Mark 8:22-26 when Jesus came to Bethsaida, they brought a blind man to him desiring Jesus to touch him. The Bible doesn’t give us the name of this blind man. He was destitute of the precious sense of sight. He had long been a stranger to beholding the beauties of nature. He could not see the lovely region around Bethsaida, the shimmering waters of the lake, the lovely flowers of the Galilean hills, nor the stars and the moon as they decorated the sky on a clear night. This man had a problem, and the people brought him to Jesus.

The healing of this blind man is one of the most fascinating miracles Jesus performed during His earthly ministry. It is also one that has produced a lot of conjecture and misunderstanding.

Let’s unpack this story and try to unravel some of the questions it presents.

The story is related to us very succinctly in five short verses, but in fact contains teaching that impacts our understanding of several spiritual truths. The disciples were granted the opportunity of witnessing a remarkable miracle in a city that was condemned for its unbelief.

Listen to Jesus’ words…

Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you” (Matthew 11:21-22).

Note that Jesus chose three Jewish cities and rebuked them for their unbelief. They had heard His preaching and seen His miracles yet had not repented. He compared them to present and past Gentile cities filled with sexual perversion, idolatry, and heathenism. These were the present cities of Tyre, Sidon, and the Old Testament city of Sodom. Jesus said these cities were better than the cities of Israel. If these cities had seen the same miracles and heard the same preaching, they would have repented. It will be more tolerable at the Great White Throne Judgment for the heathen Gentile cities than for Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum in Israel.

Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of town before healing him. This blind man lived in Bethsaida so Jesus separated the man from the unbelief of the city. Jesus didn’t need snide remarks and insults to be hurled at this man who was young in faith. He could heal in the midst of unbelief, but this man could not maintain his healing surrounded by the ridicule of the city in which he lived. This is why Jesus led the man out of town and healed him away from the view of the religious population of Bethsaida.

The grave opening, deaf destroying, lame restoring, water walking, multitude-feeding, eye opening Jesus then spat on his eyes and touched him with his hands, then asked him if he could see. The blind man answered by saying, "I see men as trees, walking."

WHY DID JESUS SPIT ON THE BLIND MAN'S EYES?

Regardless of how you examine spitting in the Bible, it’s a great insult to spit on someone or to be spit upon. Anyone under the law who was spit upon had to wash themselves and their clothes and were considered unclean until the evening. (Leviticus 15:8) Other scriptures deal with the insult of being spit upon. (Numbers 12:14, Deuteronomy 25:9) Jesus was spit upon as a great insult before He was crucified. (Matthew27:30)

Some folk miss the point of the miracle and the insult Jesus was giving by bringing spit into the transaction. Jesus didn’t spit on the blind man; He spat on the blindness. This was the ultimate insult to sickness and disease. If Jesus could speak to sickness and rebuke it, then apparently sickness can hear. (Luke 4:39) If sickness and disease can hear, it can also be insulted. Jesus released all of His contempt for Satan and his works when he spit on the blindness.

Jesus spat on two others in the New Testament. He healed another blind man by spitting in the clay and rubbing it in the man’s eyes. (John 9:1-7) He also spit on the tongue of a man with a speech impediment. (Mark 7:33) Notice in each of these cases, Jesus spat on the diseased part of the body demonstrating He was spitting on the disease, not the person. Jesus did not always lay hands on the diseased part of the body. He touched Peter’s mother-in-law on the hand to heal her of a fever. He touched people, but He spit on the devil and his works.

WHY DID JESUS PRAY FOR THE MAN TWICE?

 Jesus spit on the blindness, but He laid hands on the man for healing. In fact, He laid hands on the man twice. After laying hands on this man once, his eyes opened partially and he told Jesus he saw men walking, but they were blurry, they looked like trees. This man was not born blind, but somewhere in his life, perhaps through an accident, he had become blind. He knew what men looked like. He also remembered what trees looked like. When Jesus laid hands on the man a second time, his vision was completely restored. He saw clearly.

This is the only case recorded in the word where Jesus laid hands on a person more than once. Why? Because of the unbelief of the city of Bethsaida where he resided. He was filled with doubt concerning the ability of Jesus to heal him. Being separated from the people of the city allowed him to open himself up, albeit with skepticism, to the healing power of God. Once he could see partially, he resolved himself to being healed completely. Jesus didn’t lay hands on this man twice to release more of God’s power. God's full power was in manifestation. Jesus prayed twice because the man was now more open to God's healing power.

Although this is the only case where Jesus prayed twice for a person, it’s not the only case where a person was prayed for more than once. Jesus had to cast out the devil from a boy who had already been prayed for by the disciples. Jesus cast out the devil and then upbraided the disciples because of their failure due to the skepticism of the religious leaders and the pressure of the crowd. They had failed because of their unbelief.(Matthew17:20)

MANY PEOPLE DON’T SEE SPIRITUAL THINGS CLEARLY.

Listen to 2 Corinthians 4:4;

In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not…..

Also in Ephesians 4:18…

Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18)

When we read the Bible we need to pray like the Psalmist, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" -Psalm 119:18.

Humanistic religion won’t make you free; rationalism will not make you free; existentialism will not make you free; denominationalism will not make you free. All of these isms will keep you from seeing clearly.

There are many kinds of sight: physical, spiritual, intellectual, and hindsight, and there are so many people who need a second touch. A famous actress was recently asked why she remained single but adopted children. She said, "I had a baby at twenty five because I wanted to have a baby and I could afford it. I didn’t get married because I firmly believe that marriage destroys relationships.” Really? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in the grand scheme of things this woman isn’t seeing the big picture. She just isn’t seeing clearly.

Apollos, the eloquent preacher, did not see clearly and was given a second touch of teaching by Aquila and Priscilla. After that he could say “ I can see clearly now.” (Acts 18:24 28). The twelve men at Ephesus didn’t see clearly when they only knew of the baptism of John; but a second touch of teaching by the apostle Paul caused them to see clearly. Acts 19:1-5. Even though they had been saved they hadn’t even heard of being Spirit filled. After Paul expounded they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, just like on the Day of Pentecost.

You can’t be taught wrong, understand wrong, believe wrong, obey wrong and end up being right. Paul taught the Ephesians right; they understood right, believed right, obeyed right and were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Ethiopian Eunuch was a church-going, Bible-reading man, but he did not see clearly. He was reading in the Old Testament and didn’t understand what he was reading. But evangelist Philip gave him a second touch of teaching by preaching Jesus to him and then the eunuch could sing –I can see clearly now. (Acts 8:27-39). There are many church-going and Bible-reading people who do not see clearly. They need a second touch of divine revelation.

This story under scores the fact that…

GOD DOESN’T TREAT US THE SAME WAY.

God isn’t limited by anything or anyone and he doesn’t treat us all the same. He heals one with a touch, another with a word, another with a glance, and yet another at a great distance. He touches one and never sees the other, and yet all are healed.

It’s a mark of maturity to say, “Lord, you don’t have to treat me the way you treat my neighbor.” We all understand that truth theoretically, but it is hard to come to grips with it when your child is sick unto death and your neighbor’s children are healthy and happy. No one knows exactly why two people get cancer and one lives while the other dies.

Many people struggle with this concept. They think that because God did something for a friend or a neighbor or a loved one, then God must be bound to do the same thing for them. But it doesn’t work that way. God can deliver your neighbor from cancer and not heal you. Or vice versa. Envying your neighbor because he has something you don’t have is a waste of time because God treats us as individuals, not as groups. The truth is, he might do for you exactly what he’s done for someone else, or he might do more or he might do less or he might do something entirely different. He’s God. He can deal with us the way he wants.

When Peter asked about John’s fate, Jesus brushed him off with a mild rebuke, as if to say, “Don’t worry about it.” In essence he was saying, that’s him, not you. God deals with us as individuals. The Lord isn’t obligated to bless you the same way he blesses anyone else. And he is not obligated to put you through the same trials [either greater or lesser] that anyone else goes through. Our only business is to make sure we are following Jesus closely. If we do that, we don’t have time to worry about how he treats our friends.

When Jesus entered the room to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, the mourners had already arrived and laughed Jesus to scorn for declaring the daughter was not dead but asleep. Jesus removed them from the room before He prayed. This was for Jairus’ sake. The father had already begun to fear when he heard the report of his daughter dying. (Mark 5:36) Jesus didn’t want this man surrounded by the unbelief so rampant in Capernaum. Jesus separated the man from the atmosphere of skepticism.

Notice the last thing Jesus told this blind man after his sight was restored. “Go back to your home, but do not go back into the city or tell anyone of your healing.” What a wonderful statement to anyone needing healing today who is bothered by the reports of unbelief given by friends, relatives, church or business associates. We can go home but we need to separate ourselves from the village of unbelief that could so easily sway us and cause us to be defeated. Home is where we can be alone with God to pray and study His Word.

God still asks us today, “whose report will you believe?” To believe His report, we must dwell on it and study it until it becomes a part of our lives.

WE DON'T GET BETTER AT THE SAME RATE OR THE SAME WAY

For every man who is suddenly, radically, completely transformed, it seems that there many more who must grow in grace slowly, through stages, and whose spiritual vision starts off cloudy and only slowly gets better. To say that is not to give in to pessimism. Often it’s for our benefit to get better gradually. Spectacular healings always amaze us—and thank God they do happen yet we should realize that God often chooses to heal slowly.

This principle works across the spectrum of spiritual life. Some people come to Christ and grow quickly, becoming strong Christians in a short period of time. Others take much longer to learn the Word and become strong in the faith. Many will struggle with blurry vision for a long time. I daresay that all of us have areas of “blurry vision” where see things very unclear. Every believer has blind spots which by definition we don’t see because if we saw them, they wouldn’t be blind spots.

A WORD ABOUT HOW YOU CAN RECEIVE HEALING

If you desire to be healed and are not a Christian, you should first find healing for your soul. Repent of your sins and seek God with your whole heart. When you repent of your sins, believe in the Lord Jesus [not just some things about Him, but believe Him and trust Him and what He says in His Word], and confess Him with your mouth, - then you will be saved (see Romans 10: 9, 10). When you are born again by the spirit of God and born into the family of God, you are eligible to ask in faith for any of His promised benefits.

THE CHRISTIAN AND HEALING

If you are a Christian and haven’t received healing, examine your life and attitudes in light of God's Word. God hasn’t shown respect of persons in your case, as that’s contrary to His divine nature. If you are still sick, there is a reason, and God's Word will reveal it to you if you’ll diligently seek His face. When you find the problem and correct it, God's healing touch will be yours. This is God's guarantee, and God cannot lie.

Many fail to receive healing because they have been taught that sickness and physical suffering is God's way of bringing out the best in them, or developing the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. They believe that they must be patient in affliction and wait until it’s God's time to heal them. They believe that God is working out patience and long-suffering in them. Or perhaps God is chastening them for some unknown sin.

It’s true that sin opens the door for sickness to enter, but all God asks is that the sin be confessed and forsaken. God doesn’t say, “Is any sick among you? Let him patiently wait until God has finished chastening him" but rather…

Confess your faults one to another [now, today], and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The promise is, The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (James 5:16, 15).

God is not glorified when Christians continue in sickness. Build your faith on the Word of God. Search the Word to find the reason you have not been healed. Get rid of the problem, and then accept your healing joyfully, in whatever way God sees fit to give it.

God may choose to heal you instantly or He may choose to let the healing be gradual. He may choose to give a sudden manifestation of your healing, but at a little later time. Or, as in the case of one whose time has come to go, He may bring deliverance from pain and suffering by taking the person to his eternal rest.

Lay aside your own ideas of how God is going to heal you and accept the healing God's way. Believe God and take Him at His word. God says healing is for you. God, who cannot lie, says to- believe that ye receive it and ye shall have it.

Don’t cast away your confidence if recovery doesn't come immediately. Hold fast to your faith in the Word of God. Stand upon the promise and God guarantees that your healing shall come.

SAVED BY HIS HONESTY

What finally saved this poor blind man was his honesty. He didn’t lie to Jesus. That’s a crucial insight. He could have said, “Lord, I see all things clearly.” If he had said that, he would never have gotten better. His honesty gave him the sight he did not have.

Sometimes it’s hard to be honest with God. How difficult to admit our weakness.

Jesus didn’t ask this man, “Can you see anything?” in order to get information he didn’t have. Jesus knew the answer to the question. He wanted the man to be honest about his true condition.

We must come to the Lord just as we are, and when we do, he takes us as we are, but he never leaves us that way. That’s why the invitation of Jesus is always very personal.

Cast yourself upon the Lord and he will not turn you away.

Blessings,


John

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Night The Lights Went Out

Bu John Stallings


You know the story. It’s the story in Matthew 25:1-13, of a nighttime wedding where everything seems to go wrong. The facts are very straightforward. Ten young virgins wait for a wedding banquet. The groom will come by & they will run out to join the party as it continues to the wedding feast.

But the groom shows up late & it gets dark. The young girls are sleepy & soon nod off by the side of the road. Five of the girls refill their lamps before they fall asleep, so they’ll we ready to join the wedding party as it comes through the street. But the other five let the oil in their lamps run out.

At midnight the groom comes by. The five who’re prepared simply light their lamps & run out to meet him. The five who’re not prepared ask the first five girls to share their oil but they say, “No, if we loan you our oil, there won’t be enough for our own lamps.”

Imagine the shock that overtook the foolish virgins when they discovered their lamps had flickered out. Sleepy eyes, unkempt hair, ruffled dresses, all these things paled into insignificance when compared to the tragedy of their lights going out.

The five foolish virgins run out to buy oil & arrive late to the feast. As the story concludes the rejected bridesmaids are standing outside the door asking for admission but to no avail. They are banned from the celebration. “The door was shut.”

This is one of the most solemn parables that the Lord Jesus ever told; partly because of the time at which it was spoken & partly because of the important implications for the Christian. The story was told but a few days before our Lord’s death & was spoken within view of Gethsemane, Calvary, the cross & the grave. Not only is there a wooing call of devotion to God, this parable contains a strong prophetic significance, & stands as a beacon to the Church in all ages. It warns against carelessness, slothfulness, apathy & indifference. It cries to sinners, “Awake” & it cries to saints, “Watch.” The overriding message of the story is that when Jesus returns to the earth, some will be ready & others won’t.

THE TEN VIRGINS WERE SIMILAR IN MANY WAYS

All had been invited to the banquet & all had responded positively.
All ten had gone out to wait for the bridegroom.
All of them had their lamps with them.
All the virgins wanted to see the bridegroom.
All were in the right place at the right time for the right reason.
All of them wanted to go to the wedding banquet.
All had some oil in their lamps in the beginning.
All fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom.
All were awakened by the midnight cry.
All ten virgins got up to prepare their lamps.
All appeared to be equally prepared for the bridegroom’s coming.

If these ten girls had stood in front of us, we couldn’t have seen any difference between the wise ones & the foolish ones. One might have been chewing gum & a few might have looked bored but to the untrained eye, they would all look the same.

Before you feel sorry for the five foolish virgins, please consider this; they knew as much as the wise virgins knew about the coming celebration. It wasn’t a lack of information or wrong information that caused them to miss the celebration. The foolish virgins had everything they needed to know & still they weren’t ready.


As the night wore on, all the virgins came close to burn-out. There was nothing wrong with that. It was a common experience. If the bridegroom had come on time, there would have been no problem but he delayed his coming. However, due to the lateness of the hour, having an extra supply would be crucial. The wise virgins carried an extra supply of oil but the foolish virgins didn’t.

Note that the oil the wise virgins carried in their lamps was no greater than the oil the foolish virgins carried in their lamps. Obviously, the extra resource, the extra supply of oil was separate from the oil they had in their lamps. All ten of them were seeing their lamps beginning to burn out as the midnight hour approached. The oil the wise virgins had wasn’t already poured inside their lamps; it was separate from & subsequent to the residual oil.

We know that God is trying to tell us something here but what is it? He’s telling us that one thing separates the wise girls from the foolish girls. Whatever could it be?

OIL, A SYMBOL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

In scripture, oil is symbolic of The Holy Spirit. This being true, the extra oil could only represent the Divine Paraclete, The Comforter/ Strengthener, our Eternal Supply, even the fullness of the Holy Spirit. This issue of the extra provision that’s beyond ourselves is hugely important. I believe this is God in His loving way giving us a warning, a call to spiritual preparation.

Lately I’ve been quickened in my spirit that time is running out. I’m sure many of you feel the same. Heaven is going into her last hour operations. The prophetic clock on the mantel of the ages is trembling toward the midnight hour & many Christians are asleep.

Political winds are blowing in our beloved country in a direction they’ve never blown & if we slumber through the next weeks & months in America, we could very well see the subtle undoing of all our forefathers laid down their lives for.

Biblical Christians know there is certainly darkness up ahead & understand that God is desiring to get His people ready for that journey through darkness that comes at the end of this age. If this parable is a prophecy & I believe it is, the answer is all too apparent. Through this parable God is giving us a “heads-up.” The question is will we take the warning to heart, seek the face of God & make the needful preparation?

RUINING LOW ON OIL—RISKING BURNOUT

All the ten virgins were in the same condition to a point. They had all come to a moment of crisis & all were running out of oil. Spiritual attentiveness seems to be a critical issue here. What was really the difference in the wise girls & the foolish girls in this story? The wise ones had made deliberate plans & preparations for the coming night. They weren’t trusting in just the oil they had in their lamps, they came with extra oil.

They made it a priority to have spiritual reserves outside themselves. It was “midnight oil.” With this extra oil the virgins were ready for the midnight drama that was to come. When the hour of burnout came they could recharge their lamps with fresh oil. The foolish virgins weren’t prepared for any midnight emergency. They couldn’t continue after midnight. The lights went out for them.

OUR HEAVENLY BRIDEGROOM HAS PROMISED US EXTRA OIL.

Jesus promised his followers He wouldn’t leave them desperate & alone but would send more power on the Day of Pentecost.

Listen to John 14:16,--And I will pray the Father & He shall give you another comforter, that he may abide with you forever.

He kept His promise 50 days after His resurrection when the Holy Spirit walked a dusty stairway & fell on the 120 faithful who’d waited in an upper room for the promise to be fulfilled.

Jesus spoke of His Holy Spirit as a light. He said;

When he the Spirit of truth is come he will guide you into all truth. For he shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall he speak. And he will show you things to come. John 16:13.

I’ve said it many times but it’s strange to me that some folk believe the days of miracles along with the out poured Holy Spirit are past & the gifts given to the Apostles have all been revoked. However the gifts were never called- the gifts of the Apostles, -but rather “the gifts of the Spirit.” Surely the Spirit hasn’t passed away.

THIS IS PROBABLY THE MOST HAUNTING PARABLE CHRIST TOLD.

There were ten girls who were going into this dark night & all of them had lights that were burning brightly but they were in for a long night. At the stroke of midnight things would change & become very different & very difficult. A long dark night will take them completely out of their comfort zone. It will be a journey of wonder & it will take them well beyond their present structures they’ve come to rely on.

SOME FOLK MOCKINGLY CALL RAPTURE BELIEVERS “FLY-AWAY CHRISTIANS.”

I believe the Word of God makes it crystal clear that Christ Himself will leap from the battlements of the sky with a shout to take the waiting saints to be with Him forever. I believe according to His Word that the trumpet sound will topple tomb-stones, graves will open & the sainted dead will rise first. Then millions of Christians will be missing.

I personally don’t believe Christians will go through the Great Tribulation but we’ll definitely go through a tribulation & it’s already begun.

Somehow a word of wisdom came to the wise virgins & they paid attention to it & made sure they were prepared. Are we prepared for our journey through darkness just ahead? They set their face toward the Coming One & made sure they had all that was available to them. They dressed themselves in the garments of praise & righteousness. They were prepared to go bravely into this epic night. They will meet the Bridegroom at his coming & be given glorified bodies & come into their spiritual consummation at the marriage Supper of the lamb.

Are you & I allowing our five senses to dictate reality to us? Are we just ignoring the realities of the times we’re living in? Are we even stopping to consider the fact that we’re also going to be called to face unfamiliar events just ahead of us? This parable teaches us that we, the Bride of Christ are also going to face a time of real darkness as we approach the foothills of the Great Tribulation. Are we going to be prepared for it, or have we as Westernized Christians become so narcissistic & self-absorbed that we’ve allowed the comforts of the flesh to lull us into complacency?

Some people get confused when we speak of a great falling away in the last days, because we simultaneously speak of a great end-time revival. There will be both. We’re presently experiencing a falling away but we’re also seeing a great worldwide revival. All the Old Testament prophets saw this latter-day outpouring of God’s Spirit.

CAN YOU SEE THE DIVINE ROMANCE IN THIS PARABLE?

God has a people, a bride who in these last days are preparing themselves to rise & shine for the bridegroom in the face of the utter darkness that’s settling upon this world. God has a remnant that “gets the message.” They can discern the spiritual skies. They have the revelation that we’re going to have to walk almost all the way into the coming Apocalypse, but they have no fear of it. Their lamps are fueled with a personal supply of oil as well as the external yet also personal supply of oil. Their lamps don’t waver even in the valley of the shadow of death. They are prepared to go out into the midnight darkness & go beyond.

Friend, what will you do when things turn black in this world? Will that be-“The night the lights go out” for you? Do you have that extra reserve of unction, power, brightness of spirit & good cheer to go on? Do we have that extra jar of oil to refill our failing lamps?

THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF “BORROWED POWER”

A striking aspect of this story is the refusal of the wise virgins to loan oil to the foolish virgins. This might seem selfish on their part but to loan out their oil would mean that no one would have oil. The more overarching point is; no one can borrow another person’s faith. We can’t borrow faith from our parents.

We can’t borrow faith from the Bible College we attended.
We can’t go to heaven by holding to someone else’s coattails.
We must believe on Jesus on our own, not relying on the faith of someone around us.

At some point in our future the midnight cry will be heard. The comforts we’ve become so accustomed to will fall away. Forces will begin to press in on us & we’ll start to stir & awake from our dreamy state. The “dark night of the soul” will finally have come. If we think looking up for our heavenly bridegroom is being too “heavenly minded” we won’t think that much longer. It will be a time to “rise & shine” for God’s covenant people. The time Isaiah saw will have finally arrived;

Arise, shine for your light has come. And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Isa.60:1-5

OIL SIGNIFIES A PLACE OF CRUSHING

Oil is obtained by the crushing of olives. There is an aspect of crushing when it comes to Christians who want to walk in an anointing, especially in these last days.

I’ve been in ministry for more than half a century but I can tell you that I’ve never seen a time when God’s people are experiencing more oppression than at the present moment. There’s a price to be paid to walk in the anointing.

Having been to the Holy Land several times I realize that right across from Jerusalem’s eastern gate is the Mount of Olives. This is the grand entrance into the Holy City, the entrance Jesus took at His first coming. It will also be where He comes in at His second coming when His feet touch the Mount of Olives & the whole mountain cleaves in two. Not far away is the place called Gethsemane, which means “oil press.” Here is where oil is pressed out.

This is the place where Jesus was handed the cup of suffering. This is the place where He knelt down & prayed, sweating as it were drops of blood. It was here that “The anointed one” faced the powers of darkness in His dark night & faced the prospect of the cross & for the first time being cut of from His father. There at the “oil press” Jesus defeated the powers of darkness so that you & I will never have to see defeat.

The wise virgins knew this place for it was here that they found the oil & purchased it with the surrender of their own self-life to God.

The virgins get up as they hear the midnight cry. Their lamps are about to go out. The five wise girls proceed to fill their lamps with the extra oil.

The Bible is replete with cases of people slumbering. The disciples slumbered in the garden on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. Like the disciples the ten virgins also slumber as their lamps burned low.

At midnight all the virgins awaken. They have all heard the shout of the Bridegroom. The wise virgins fill their lamps & they are burning bright to light their way as they head out into the darkness. The hour has come.

MIDNIGHT IS BOTH AN AGONIZING & ECSTATIC MOMENT IN TIME.

It was at midnight when Samson awakens from slumber & finds himself in the bonds of Delilah’s seduction & betrayal.

It was at midnight when Boaz discovers the maiden Ruth lying at his feet. As he slept on the floor she had nestled herself there seeking covering.

It was at midnight when Jesus was betrayed & sent up before Caiaphas.

It was at midnight that Paul & Silas are praising God in prison. They weren’t low on oil were they? Their praises went through the prison roof & skipped out through the Milky Way & didn’t stop until they reached heaven & then came back down to earth in the form of an earthquake, shaking open the doors & locks of the prison & causing the jailer, now under a death sentence to ask, “What must I do to be saved?.

The ten virgins are now awaking from sleep. The midnight drama is starting to unfold. The shout of the Bridegroom has been heard off in the distance. The Bridegroom is coming. The ten virgins are up. Their lamps are burning low & about to go out. But the wise virgins are prepared for this. Excitedly they pour oil from their vessels to fill their lamps.

But for the foolish virgins the story is different. In the light of their dim & failing lamps the awful truth hits them. They have no oil to re-fill their lamps. They must remain behind to find the oil. But the hour is late; too late in fact. This is an awful situation. They have heard the midnight cry. They know the he is near, yet they’re unable to go out to meet Him.

Think of these solemn words in the story; And the door was shut.

The foolish virgins went out to buy oil, but by the time they returned the door was shut. Today the door of salvation is open but at death it closes & when Christ comes back to earth the door will close. What will you do then?

Some folk act like they’re going to live forever. Did you know that three people who survived the World Trade Center attack on September 11-01 died in the plane crash in Queens New York a short time later? James tells us that our lives are like a vapor that appears for a time then vanishes away. [James 4:13-17]

One thing that strikes me in this story is that the five foolish virgins are never called rank sinners, if they were we could understand their being shut out of the banquet. They truly wanted to see the bridegroom & that's part of the tragedy. Seemingly these women did nothing--& that was their real problem. If you & I miss heaven we can't blame our parents or friends -or ex-husband -or ex-wife.

If you miss heaven & wonder why, look in the mirror & you'll have your answer.

Today the door of salvation is open wide. Someday it will be shut forever. Make sure you’re on the right side of that door when that day comes.

The time for preparation is now.
The time for the procuring of extra oil is now.

Let us seek the oil of the fullness of His Spirit now.
Let us trim our lamps for the coming night.



Every Blessing,


John

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What Really Sank The Titanic??

By John Stallings


Not that long ago we commemorated the one hundred year anniversary of the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic. 

For generations the tragic story has captivated the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life. People of all ages - even the very young - are enthralled with the story.

When I was in third grade, [I think] I got my hands on a book about the sinking of the Titanic in the school library. For some reason it made an imprint on me and to this day that mystique remains to haunt me. Why?

After over sixty years all I can tell you is this. If we were to put the Lion's share of all the super rich and super powerful of our day on one ship, and I mean all of them, and have them all sink into the ocean on one ship, maybe we could understand what gave this story such legs, one hundred years ago.
 
Moreover, interest in Titanic has grown stronger, fueled by the discovery of the wreck by explorer Bob Ballard in 1985, and culminating in the motion picture by James Cameron which set new records for box-office sales and earned a multitude of Academy Awards.There have been a great many myths and legends put forth as the cause of the disaster ever since that fateful night in 1912. Tales range from sabotage, to the evil curse of a mummy said to be on board. Balderdash!!

The loss of the Titanic left a shaken world in disbelief and made people stop and think. People are still thinking. I believe that God wants us to remember the object lessons the Titanic story provides. The lessons are still relevant to us today, and perhaps that’s why He made it possible for the wreck to be located in 1985 - to again remind us that these lessons are for our time.

The most obvious lesson is the sinfulness of human pride and arrogance...clearly present in almost every aspect of the story.

Titanic took nearly 12,000 men more than two years to construct. Built in Belfast, Ireland for the White Star Line, Titanic’s owners were in stiff competition with the rival Cunard Line.
People wanted luxury, and to say that’s what they found in Titanic would be an understatement. Not only was Titanic the largest man-made moving object in the world, it was also the most luxurious ship the world had ever known. It was a floating palace loaded with fine amenities; a five-star hotel on the sea. Never before had anyone seen anything like it.

She was truly impressive, but Titanic’s owners failed to remember Psalm 127:1:

“Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”


Man has always endeavored to reach higher, to achieve things greater than ever before. Great achievements in themselves are not bad, but too often, they are done for the wrong reasons, specifically, to glorify man, rather than God.

DID PRIDE SINK THE TITANIC?

Throughout the Bible are accounts of proud men who refused to humble themselves and acknowledge God, who built monuments to themselves and their achievements, who trusted in their own abilities, possessions and self-efforts, rather than relying on God’s provision. All inevitably came to a tragic end. You’d think we humans would “get it” by now, but we don’t.

We read in 1 Peter 5:5, “...God gives special blessings to those who are humble, but sets Himself against those who are proud.” (Living Bible).

The Titanic was a symbol of everything man could achieve in her day and she was truly beautiful. But the society of the day forgot God, reveled in their own abilities, and even taunted God’s awesome power, taking His name in vain and boasting “God Himself could not sink this ship!”With all the latest innovations in ship-building technology, including 15 watertight doors, it was widely believed and accepted that this ship really was unsinkable.

As we all know, God Himself could sink the Titanic, but no big storm or major “act of God” was needed. Once again, the arrogance of man was adequate to facilitate his undoing.Passengers enjoyed a tranquil crossing on their way to New York and, in fact, crew members remarked they had never seen the Atlantic more calm.

Those aboard the Titanic booked passage in either first class, second class or third class (steerage) accommodations. First class passengers enjoyed the most luxurious surroundings, rivaling the most posh hotels in the world. First class suites even included their own private promenade decks, sitting rooms and lavatories.

It was said that the second class accommodations on Titanic were better than first class on all other ships of that time, and even steerage passengers had it better than ever.Titanic was brand new, shiny and strong. This was her maiden voyage and expectations were high for such a beautiful - and unsinkable - ship.

On Sunday, April 14, 1912, Titanic was making excellent speed and most of the passengers spent the day indoors because the weather had turned suddenly cold.

Captain E.J. Smith held church services that morning, which would have been traditionally followed by a lifeboat drill for passengers and crew, but on this day, there was no drill...after all, the ship was unsinkable.

As for the lifeboats, Titanic’s owners were so convinced that the ship could never sink, that they only included lifeboats for less than half those on board, to make for a better looking, less crowded boat deck.
Iceberg warnings came in via wireless telegraph all day and evening but were generally ignored and Titanic pressed forward toward disaster.

Perhaps what makes the story of the Titanic so sad and heart-rending is that the people involved were really no different than we are today. We can easily identify with them. If we were on a ship that was said to be unsinkable, would we feel it necessary to hold a lifeboat drill, or would we call it off if it was too cold outside?

Would we heed iceberg warnings if we “knew” our ship was unsinkable, or continue on with the party we were enjoying? Wealth, comfort and luxury can make people complacent, lulled into a false sense of security. We can become so full of ourselves that we feel we are invincible. We can think all is well, when disaster is just around the corner.

But as we read in James , “How do you know what is going to happen tomorrow? For the length of your lives is as uncertain as the morning fog - now you see it, soon it is gone.” (Living Bible).

In much the same way the people of Noah’s day were warned, and in much the same way the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were warned, and just as those on the Titanic were warned about the icebergs, we are warned about the consequences of complacency and indifference to sin - sin in the world and sin we are involved with. We’re warned of the cost of living apart from God and without the Salvation of Christ. But do we heed the warnings? Or do we continue on in
comfort and luxury, doing our own thing, forgetting God?

In 1 Thessalonians 5 it says, “When people are saying, ‘All is well, everything is quiet and peaceful,’ - then all of a sudden, disaster will fall upon them.”

Disaster struck the Titanic at , April 14, 1912, as she collided with the iceberg.For decades it was thought that the berg tore a 300 foot gash in the side of the ship. But when the wreck was discovered in 1985, it was found that only a few small holes had opened in the ship’s hull --- all told the damage was less than 12 square feet in size, less than the size of the average doorway in one’s home.

Even this discovery provides a lesson as to how just a few “small” sins in our lives - if not dealt with - can bring devastation and disaster. Regardless of how immaculate the “ship” of our lives may be, just one sin can sink us...

For whoever shall keep the whole law and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10).

Just after , Captain Smith ordered the crew to ready the lifeboats. But passengers were reluctant to leave the comfort of the huge ship for a 70-foot drop down to the dark ocean in the tiny wooden boats. Sadly, even though there were only lifeboats enough for less than half those aboard, very few of the boats were loaded to their capacity.

The rule was “women and children first,” but many of the ladies refused to leave without their husbands, and had to be forcibly picked up and placed in the boats.

Families were torn apart, as women and children bid farewell to their husbands and fathers, who were not allowed into the lifeboats.

Many of the wealthy on board refused to leave without their valuables. Some went back to collect their belongings from their staterooms, and in so doing, lost their only chance at a lifeboat. They didn’t realize the danger, and preferred to remain with their “treasure” instead of saving their lives. Like the rich man in Matthew 19, they would not give up their money or
possessions.

But within an hour, the seriousness of the situation became apparent as the bow of the ship began to disappear beneath the surface of the water. But by this time, it was too late for most.Many of the third class passengers remained trapped below decks, separated from the rest of the ship by locked gates. By the time the majority of the third class passengers made it to the boat decks, most of the lifeboats had already been launched - again, most half-empty - as hundreds remained on the ship with no hope for survival.

As one of the last boats was being lowered away, J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line and owner of Titanic stepped into a boat and saved himself.
Captain Smith went down with the ship - and more than 1,500 others among the passengers and crew.

There are hundreds of inspiring and heartbreaking stories that are told of Titanic’s last moments...the band that kept playing until the end, to help calm the passengers and avoid a panic. The wealthy Mrs. Isador Strauss, who chose to stay and die with her husband, rather than leave without him. The hundreds and hundreds who were left on board with all the lifeboats gone and no way to be rescued -- women, children and families alike.

One story that is often left out of the movies, and seldom told is that of John Harper, the newly called Pastor to Moody Church who was on his way to Chicago. After the collision, he got his 6-year-old daughter into a lifeboat, but apparently made no attempt to save himself.Instead, he ran throughout the ship yelling, “Women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats!” Survivors report that he began witnessing to anyone who would listen, and even continued to preach after he had jumped into the water, clinging to a piece of wreckage.

Harper’s final moments were recounted by a survivor four years after the disaster. “I was drifting alone on a spar that night, when the tide brought Mr. Harper, also on a piece of wreck, near me. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I am not.’ He replied, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ The waves bore him away, but strange to say, brought him back a little later, and he said, ‘Are you saved now?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I cannot honestly say that I am.’ He said again, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,’ and shortly after, he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper’s last convert.”

He was also one of only six people to be picked up out of the water that night. 1,517 people died. Only 706 survived.

When the sun came up the next morning, the survivors in the lifeboats had their first look at the harsh reality -- hundreds of corpses, still wearing their life jackets, frozen to death or drowned in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. They were surrounded by icebergs, some more than 200 feet high.

A great many awe-inspiring artifacts have been brought up from the site of the wreck...things that help to tell the story, and remind us of what happened that night. We’ve seen pieces of the ship, personal belongings, even letters, menus and tickets.

But can we grasp the real story here?

What can we learn from all this? We can learn to not trust in the wealth and things of this world...they are only temporary. Trusting in worldly possessions is futile. After all, what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?
We can learn that the consequences of pride and arrogance are always destruction, in one form or another.

“They trust in their wealth and boast about how rich they are, yet not one of them, though rich as kings, can ransom his own brother from the penalty of sin! For God’s forgiveness does not come that way. For a soul is far too precious to be ransomed by mere earthly wealth. There is not enough of it in all the earth to buy eternal life for just one soul, to keep it out of hell.” (Psalm 49:6-12, Living Bible).

As Christians, charged with the great commission, we’re the “Captains” here. For the sake of our “passengers” - those we’re called to disciple, we cannot skip the lifeboat drills. We need to actively teach people there is a lifeboat (Jesus Christ), and show them what the lifeboat can do for them (by teaching the Gospel). We must also reach out to the lost - those drowning in sin - and pull them into the boat (evangelism and education). Just as the Lord told Peter, “Feed My little sheep,” (John ).

We can’t skip the lifeboat drills - not only for the sake of those we’re disciplining, but also for our own benefit...we need to keep our skills in shape through constant Bible study and prayer. And if it’s too cold outside, or we’re too tired on Sunday morning, we can’t call off the lifeboat drill and stay home from church -- we need it!

Then we need to make sure the people remain in the lifeboat (discipleship).We also need to heed the iceberg warnings, and keep our ship on a safe course. We need to be sensitive to things that could bring harm to our ship, because our eternal lives, and those of our passengers are at stake.

Satan would have us believe we’re “unsinkable,” and that there’s no need for a lifeboat. This is one of his greatest lies... that there’s no rush, no sense of urgency. And that it’s much more safe and comfortable to stay aboard the ship of our own lives where we are in control. It’s not just inconvenient - it’s scary - to put yourself in someone else’s hands and be lowered into a lifeboat that doesn’t look at all comfortable - or safe. But it really depends on Whose hands you’re talking about, doesn’t it? Thankfully we're in the hands of God.

Praise God that He provided us with a way to be rescued...His Son, Jesus Christ!But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name.” (John 20:31).

Even though we are hopelessly lost, with no way to save ourselves from eternal death, the Lord provided each and every one of us with a lifeboat. The ship is going down, no question...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23).

But like those on the Titanic, people are still reluctant to get into the lifeboat. They feel safer - and much more comfortable - where they are, but they don’t realize they’re on a sinking ship, and the lifeboat is the only way to be saved...it’s very simple: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life...” (John 3:36). There are two choices: Get in the boat and live, or don’t get in the boat and die. It’s not complicated.
There are enough seats in this lifeboat for all of us.

And the boat is open to all -- there are no third-class passengers trapped below decks...Christ unlocked the gates that lead to safety at the cross.

And this isn’t just for women and children! “For whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13).

The Lord isn’t willing that any should perish. Step into the boat!


Blessings,


John