Zacharias’ Prophecy (over his son, John the Baptist)
And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant – as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old – salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:67-79 NAS
These are beautiful words aren’t they? The Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace?” So be it Lord! These were the words Zacharias used to break his angelic-imposed silence. It did not make print but I deeply suspect Zacharias might add, “And never, never, never, ask an angel to prove his point.”
“A Zachariah’s Heart” was the title of a sermon I preached in 2009. (Titles were required for the bulletin. I’m having a flashback, “Here is your bulletin, now find your seat so you can begin to worship.” The word “bulletin” sounds odd today.)
In my 15 years as an elder of Grace World Outreach this message got the most feedback. (For the record, I only spoke a few dozen times.) It was essentially about bitterness – a malady of the heart that can quietly decimate a Christian and those around him (or her). It may have had some additional punch since, my teaching was not just exposition; it were exposé. I was able to offer some insight, from personal experience, as to where a human might get the chutzpah to challenge an angel.
They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Luke 1:6-7
In the presence of Levitical qualification, a blameless life and, no doubt, petition upon unanswered petition, Elizabeth remained barren. What had Zacharias done with his dissapointment over the years? I believe, he asked, “Why God? Why us Lord? Have we not served you blamelessly?” Perhaps he did not quite voice this in his prayers, but he may have added, in his heart, “And ‘this’ (barrenness) is the thanks we get?!”
Yes, I’m speculating, but not from a total vacuum. I too have asked, “Why?” But, I didn’t bother with Gabriel; I knew with whom I had to do and it was God; “God, why in the prime of my life (with my handicap at 10 and shrinking) did you permit my back to go out? Have I not been zealous for your ways?” “Why are you permitting so much pain into my life? Did I not fast and pray for 40 days? Did I not prayer walk around my city in your behalf?” I finally discovered, through some severe mercy, what I had been doing with my disappointment and I speculated that Zacharias had done the same.
There is an energy in being offended. It can attach itself to the heart like a battery charged with bad current. The silly flesh is powered up with a cause, proclaiming with false dignity, “I have been wronged!” In the Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis speaks of a grumbler becoming a grumble. Zacharias’ chutzpah can best be explained by a complainer having become a complaint. The offense is not necessarily voiced, instead it is nursed. Sadly, one can go about the discharging of their religious duties, with this out-of-phase current, operating in the heart, at least until the circuit blows.
Think of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He was going about his chores, powered by this same bad current. He once had a seemingly innocent question; “What does father think about me?” The fallen heart has a genius all its own in incorrectly answering this big question. In its Eden-born insecurity, it replies, “To my father, I am but a laborer. He may call me a son, but I’m really just like the hired hands.” He further reasons, “Perhaps if I do my chores without a flaw, his feelings toward me might change.” This approach to his father is doomed. When the hired hands reported that the younger brother had returned and received the favor he had craved, it exposed what was in his heart – a massive distortion of everything around him. Zacharias, the elder brother and I, had all mismanaged our hearts, allowing a question to leaven and become a cancer to our souls and to our communities.
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15
Bitterness has a subtle and potentially fatal effect on the expression of God’s life in us. It is the baseless continuation of our futile revolt. It is the exact opposite fruit of what God is endeavoring to grow in our hearts. If you have ever wondered why Jesus told Peter he must forgive 70 x 7 times, it was because of His love for Peter and the Church which Peter would be entrusted with. When these questions about justice and fairness arise in our hearts, we must put them in their place – at the foot of the cross. We are stewards of a precious space, where the kingdom of God has been planted. Forgiveness is life to that new soil. We are the stewards of this field and God anticipates a great harvest.
And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear. Matthew 13:8 NASB
Having allowed this tare to grow in my own heart, I am a big advocate of proactive stewardship of our hearts. The weed of bitterness will rob essential nutrients from our heart-soil. Bitterness is a thistle. It may have a pretty flower but its fruit is toxic. It may look impressive but the plant is covered with thorns and will reproduce 700 x 7. How big of deal is the stewardship of our hearts? A reread, better yet a saturation in Matthew 5 will underscore the answer. Solomon also knew of this spiritual reality…
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23
A dear friend made an astute comment to me this past week and it has been resonating within me. He said, “All sin, at its root, is a violation of Love.” When we are bitter, we are withholding the good will and peace on earth that Jesus came to bring. We are sinning against Love. This is counter to our new natures in Christ. Bitterness is a bane to the kingdom of God. Nursing it will estrange our hearts from Father and wreak havoc upon our communities.
Father, may Your tender mercies prevail. May we see the visitation of the Sunrise from on high. Shine upon those who sit in darkness, seeing only the shadows of death. Guide our feet into the way of peace. For Your name’s sake. Amen,
At the gym where I exercise I will occasionally see someone who has really lost weight and has toned up. Curious as to the cause of their transformation, I inquire as to their secret. It is common to hear them say, “Oh man, it’s definitely this Atomic-Turbo Protein Supplement that I’m now a dealer of!” “Really? Did you change anything else in your routine?”, I ask. “Oh yes”, they respond. “I have been running 20 miles a week and have cut all sugar from my diet. You want to buy a gallon of A-TPS?” Gratefully, I say, “Perhaps another time. But thank you for the insight.”
A few years ago I thought that something had spiritually changed in me. I felt lighter, less preoccupied, and much more peaceful. I knew something had changed when people started coming up to me and asking me why I was joking and smiling so much. They wanted to know my secret. I found myself frequently saying, “Oh man, it was definitely the time I spent with that counselor.” They might follow with, “Was anything else going on in your life?” I would respond, “Oh yes, there is the time I regularly spend alone with God.”
At this point it is not uncommon to catch a fleeting, despondent look along with an admission that the whole prayer and time-alone-with-God–thing has never really worked for them. Neither is it uncommon for folks to just want to change the subject. It’s no surprise. We’ve all wrestled with prayer. It’s a mystery and most approaches to it require time. The fruit of prayer grows slowly, and only those who persevere will enjoy its taste. Sadly, many have figured out ways to get by without meaningful time alone with God.
However, to invite us back into the mystery of prayer, Jesus tells us:
Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. Matthew 6:6 (The Message)
Jim Branch (in his Introduction to the Blue Book devotional) echoes Christ’s words:
Find a place that is set-aside for you and God alone, a place that helps you be attentive to him, a place that will not be full of distractions or noise… Also pick a time when you are at your best, fully wake and alert. As your time unfolds each day, try not to keep an eye on your watch; just allow your time to happen… Let the Spirit of God be your guide. The key is to be consistent. Over time you will begin to notice that God is near…
In the same spirit, Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717), who learned to meld prayer, as an attitude, with the reading of scripture, says:
Take in fully, gently, and carefully what you are reading. Taste it and digest it as you read. Use the passage to sense the presence of the Lord and stay with the passage until you have sensed the very heart of what you have read… Your purpose is to take everything from the passage that unveils the Lord to you.
Those who have lingered long enough to taste and see that the Lord is present know that crowds, noise, and busyness are the three main enemies of the spiritual life; so, they have retaliated by finding the time and the place to regularly and privately explore the mystical union between themselves and God.
And it is a mystery isn’t it? Even though our Father knows what we need before we ask him, he still insists that we ask. He even shows us how in The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; do what’s best— as above, so below (from The Message)…for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. (NASB)
Is it possible that the global revival we entrusted to Billy Graham was always intended to start in our own hearts? Is it conceivable that the radical thing God has always intended for the earth was the kingdom of God and that, astonishingly, it has been in the hearts of his children all along? Won’t it be a surprise to discover that God intended Christ in us—the life of God and the hope of glory to be the final catalyst in the consummation of the ages?
While we are devouring Christian literature (even the Bible), cramming our brains with more information, our spirits are likely starving for the birthright of our intimacy with God that is only discovered experientially and privately. The Father didn’t say if you pray; he said when you pray.
Without the New Testament canon, a handful of people filled with the Holy Spirit became the early Church—an unparalleled agent of change in human history. The men and women of that movement had been profoundly influenced by one primary thing, which even the high priests noticed:
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 (NASB)
I do believe that Christ, in his simple instructions to come to the Father, has handed us a major key to his kingdom and a personal invitation to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. If we are busy and decline to respond as he has instructed, then I fear we may be virgins at risk of not having our lamps full when they are most needed.
So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth. Come, let us return to the Lord. Hosea 6:1-3 (NASB)
Don’t become so well-adjusted to (the pace of) your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Romans 12:2 (The Message) (parenthetical phrases mine).
An important disclaimer: I have tasted something that is allowing me to enjoy my relationship with God more than ever. But I don’t trace what transformation I have experienced back to a patented devotional formula or book. I view my devotional life as an effect, an outcome, not a cause. Legitimate change can only come from Christ in me (a great mystery with which I grapple through words most mornings). The kingdom of God is present now wherever Christ is reigning. My new smile is best accounted for by the simple truth that he has become Lord over more territory in my heart.
Some debilitating lies were dismantled in my heart with the help of a counselor—it is true. But, the main work is simply God’s Spirit, in the normal course of life, restoring my birthright as his son and his friend. With this as my identity, devotional times have been transformed from obligation to opportunity, from correspondence to communion.
In false humility, I started to say that I haven’t arrived yet, but that is not true. I have. For years, in my insecurity, I sought God with what I thought was all my heart, which in retrospect, I think, was actually all (or mostly) my flesh (which, by the way, is religion). I thought if I could just repent deeply enough or acquire that missing piece of information, that just around the corner I would discover the abundant and intimate life I believed existed but that had always eluded me.
My heart was a religious hamster wheel. To my unspeakable joy and delight, after I had spent all my energy, I discovered that it had all been unnecessary. For me to press on to know the Lord meant to acknowledge that in Christ, I had arrived. There was absolutely nothing that I could add that would alter God’s devoted affection for me. I didn’t realize his grip on me until I relaxed my grip on him. Honestly, it was like being born again—again. This is my story and I love to tell it.
Father, by the power that is in us in Christ, help us to break free of the pull of this earth’s spiritual gravity. Help us to see that by letting go and by celebrating what already is, we are lighter creatures who can soar even today as eagles on the updrafts of your love and affection. This time around, help us to cherish and act upon the invitation as it is extended to us once again. Help us to learn how to just simply and honestly be with you. And Lord, please birth your kingdom in our hearts. Amen.
Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful?
He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the
elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil
in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the
one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed
sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one
another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The
effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a
man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not
rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then
he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its
fruit. James 5:13-18 (NASB)
At least in theory, we know that the effective prayer of a righteous man, like Elijah, can accomplish much. We know Elijah’s righteous exploits. They are chronicled in the Old Testament. But what about us? Has the body of Christ in America demonstrated, in practice, that she has accomplished much in the way of prayer? Are there logjams behind the microphones at church of people wanting to share how the elders raised them by prayer? This is not a current problem in most assemblies. Our explanations for this are varied.
In some settings the theme of God’s sovereignty is emphasized so heavily, prayer hardly makes sense since God knows all and is concerned for all. He knows our words (and no doubt our prayers) before we utter them. Here, the unspoken question of the heart could be, “In light of sovereignty, my prayer is needed because…?” The ambitious intercession of some might even seem like meddling since God’s will is done on earth pretty much in spite of us.
One explanation for the scarcity of divine intervention is that God has dispensed with childish things, like the gifts of the Spirit after he arranged for us to have his written word. So, the miraculous was unique to a dispensation where it was needed to launch the church and keep it humming until the Word could be made paper. Might I suggest—it’s not really too surprising no one is healed when no one is asking.
As a person who has had a good deal of opportunity for the elders to pray over him, I have been overwhelmed at all the ways people can come at the issue of sickness. I believe I documented ten different approaches to healing by my well-meaning brothers and sisters. I wondered frequently as one after another was presented, was I supposed to have faith in Christ alone for my healing, or faith in the method being presented? I seriously wondered if Jesus might not withhold miracles from us if we think we can conjure them up with some patented process that inadvertently excludes him.
Perhaps the problem of elder-led prayer is simply an absence of elders. In some churches (by design) there are no elders (in the sense of spiritual leaders). In these settings, an elder would be explained to be simply an older person. My word study indicates that the ratio of the words translated as pastor (in Church leadership capacity) to those translated as elder (in Church leadership capacity) is 1/13. Enough said.
Since it’s an assumption to the New Testament writers that Jesus was a healer, I cannot go out further in my revelation as some have, reducing this aspect of his ministry to a one time historical anomaly. While that would be convenient in light of the few healings we see, it would be unthinkable if I am to also believe that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
I am speaking now as an elder (in at least one sense of that word (I’m 63.) In light of New Testament scripture, which remains my best reference point for life in the Kingdom, I could imagine a kingdom culture that is constructed from a set of biblical values. Today’s passage prompts me to think of a few of them. (Note: although these may seem like biblical ideas to me, they will appear to the institutional, pastor-led (elder-less) church, as the mere rant of an elderly man.)
1. Find elders who agree that all things are possible with God because Jesus is the same today as he always has been and always will be.
2. Find elders who agree that, in spite of God’s sovereignty, we are called to a life of faith-driven activity that is integral to the Kingdom’s growth—activity that includes our prayers of faith.
3. Find elders who are at rest in Christ, who understand that the only righteousness they have is that which was gifted them in Christ; therefore, they are equipped as well as (if not better than) Elijah was.
4. Find elders who have become poor in spirit and have thus been given the kingdom of heaven—people who because they have been broken, can truly empathize with others and who personally know the power of God to raise men up from the ash heap.
5. Find elders who are accessible and available to share their lives with others, people who, by their nature, spawn community—safe spaces where everyone prays for each other on the merit of God’s desire to give good gifts to his children and the righteousness we have in Christ.
I believe God does desire to heal us in spite of our track record (which might suggest otherwise). I really think there isn’t much—besides ourselves—in His way. I don’t believe we are locked out of divine healing by virtue of being in the wrong dispensation. We simply need to press on with faith and patience recognizing with James that: The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.
We need to be willing to live together without offense at God or at each other for what has not happened. We also need to avoid building doctrines and church culture around what has not happened instead of what the scriptures reveal can and should happen. We need to foster the habit of asking and patiently expecting the precious produce of the soil.
Father, in our current lives, in our grappling with the word, there fields of misinformation sown by your enemy. In your kindness, grant us humility to see how much of that information is lodged in our own hearts, inhibiting our fruitfulness. As Satan’s lies are exposed allow us to see him fall from the heights of his temporary throne. May we see a reformation of New Testament life that is fueled by your Living Word and your Spirit. Amen.
A Christian’s one-and-only hope is Christ, who may permit him to bare, in his heart (and sometimes in his body), a modicum of His sufferings – those things His death and Resurrection will one day eradicate, yet for a time, may still plague him. A great mystery of the New Covenant is its efficiency. In Christ, nothing is lost, especially suffering. Where the source of suffering is not overcome, it can be redeemed for eternity.
In the moving, swirling winds of man’s existence, he is bruised and slammed by a hundred assailants from within and without. The particular danger of western culture is that we have 99 firewalls between us and our legion of perceived threats. We can easily retreat into any one of them and insulate ourselves from the heat. But is this wisdom? Perhaps we should pause and ask, “Are these interruptions our friends or our enemies? or both?” When in doubt, consult an apostle…
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NAS
The soul conditioned in western culture recoils, “What are you saying Paul? You must be insane! I cannot rejoice in everything because everything includes evil. Look around, you fool, do you not see evil robbing and killing and destroying us on every front? Evil is crouching at our doorstep just waiting to devour us!”
Paul is saying, “You are mistaken. Let me tell you how to redeem your mourning.” Let’s back up and capture the larger framework of Paul’s rejoice always– council;
We don’t really know when Jesus is coming back do we? All we can say for sure is that it will be without warning. Very much like a woman in travail, a few contractions and the child will be crying in her arms! However, as children of a new dawn, it should be quite different for you. The sun of a new kingdom has already arisen in your hearts. You have been awakened. Remain so.
Protect your heart with the realty of Christ’s presence in you. Faith and love will flow from you as you do. God’s anger is off the table for you. Whether you are present in body or not, a banquet has been prepared at your table. Christ, your abundant Life, is the main course. Continue to encourage each other with these realities, born of your new dawn. (My paraphrase of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)
Let’s explore the balance of our passage in the same light;
Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-24 NAS
Most evangelical Christian’s eyes cross and their blood pressures rise if you use the phrase – prophetic utterances. Most of their teachers have told them that prophecy was one of the childish gifts entrusted to primitive Christians before scholarly officials could gather and place their imprimatur on a canon of ancient literature. Even though I understand this, I’m not buying it. (i.e. – that the gifts are primitive and retired)
I have seen a person deliver a prophetic utterance while it appeared they had been hooked up to a 440 volt current. (I would call this ecstatic.) I have seen variations of this all the way down to 9 volts. (I think of this frequency as tremolo.) Most of the prophetic voices I know seem to have no current beyond the Holy Spirit stimulating the substance of their words. (I call this normative and wise.) Anyway, I try and dismiss the current and hold on to the content. My evangelical friends and family are certain this sort of thing is fleshly at best and likely demonic. I’m not sure what they would say if it had been tongues of fire. I suspect they would defer to McArthur on that.
Can we not agree together that it was expedient that the Spirit was left on the earth to do more than just say, “Amen” when the Bible is read? Can we not all agree that heavenly truth is beyond the grasp of our natural minds? After all, heaven is at least a mile or two above the plane of our human thought. Is it really all that crazy to imagine that it might be despised when it is heard, alien as it were, to our worldy-conditioned ears. The Holy Spirit remains the ladder between that eternal realm and our temporal one. We should listen to those who know they sit with Christ in heavenly places and are walking in the Spirit, moving in overlapping realms. The words that have formed in their hearts are unavoidably prophetic utterances.
My council to those who hear my voice is to observe the vessel. Do their lives bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit? What is going on in their families? Do their utterences align with scripture? Did their words offend a fleshly agenda or worldly view point? Did their words have the impact of a question mark, an exclamation point? How about a highlighter? These are not childish words then. Hold on to what they say; these are words to be held in the heart as Mary held Gabriel’s. Prophetic utterances are compliments to the inner workings of God’s Word and Spirit in our hearts. Paul wished we would be inundated with them…
Desire…especially that you may prophesy…One who prophesies edifies the church… I wish that all would prophesy that the church may receive edification…Seek (that prophecy might) abound for the edification of the church. In the church I desire to speak five words (prophetically) with my mind so that I may instruct others… (A condensing of 1 Corinthians 14:1-9 in the NAS, less Paul’s instructions on tongues)
Here’s the deal according to Paul. (and I concur.) Again …
Hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
So be it, Lord!
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. “And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him. “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; he has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. “He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed. “He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.
When I saw this morning’s passage I thought, “Uh oh, I’m up against it today. How am I to relate to the mother of God!” I am not a woman. I’m not from the same race of people. I’m not under the Law of Moses. And, I am two millennium removed from that era. However, as I take some time with the passage, something alive begins to stand out in the passage and in my heart, as is almost always the case. This is typically my invitation to proceed.
My initial thoughts were, “Mary is rejoicing… as well she should! I guess I would too if I had…… ….. , and I was stopped dead in my thought-track. I didn’t get to the balance of that thought, which was, “if I had God in my womb”, because his Spirit, reminded me that in essence I do. He is in my heart – an intended birthing place of new life. I have Christ in me. This passage is known in Latin as the Magnificat meaning, “my soul magnifies”. The NAS has interpreted the original greek to say, “my spirit rejoiced”. My soul too magnifies the Lord as I grapple with the reality that Christ is being birthed in me! In us!
We tend to read the scriptures and idolize characters such as Mary as those with greater callings than us. Without demeaning them, God disagrees totally with us. He has a much higher opinion of us than we do of ourselves. Jesus himself would edit the tapes running our hearts with the following…
Are you listening to me? Really listening?….. Let me tell you what’s going on here: No one in history surpasses John the Baptizer; but in the kingdom he prepared you for, the lowliest person is ahead of him. (from Matt 11:11-15)
To those who are really listening, who have given him (as Lord) all editing rights, Jesus would further say…..
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force…….He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
A few friends have called my writing style stream of consciousness. Since I don’t know the established categories of styles, I often think of my posts as expository testimonials – giving a verse by verse account of the hope that is within me. My prayer is that my writing, whatever its style, leaves clues, especially for my friends and family as to how the Holy Spirit works in the interior of our lives where his kingdom is being birthed.
When we are commanded by Jesus to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, what thoughts come to mind? I know that my evangelical wineskin response has been; to fulfill the great commission and follow through with all that entails. When I hear about the kingdom today something entirely different comes to mind. This morning I would like to share my account of this particular aspect of my hope.
A few years ago, after a long season where things were not at well with my soul, where I was seeking any wind of revival that might be blowing, my ship hit a dead calm. I even tried rowing for a while but it was just more futility and striving after the wind. My only resort was to ask God to let the revival I had tried to run down simply catch up with me. I prayed (you may think I am crazy), “Lord, if you need and address and zip code, please let revival begin in my heart, I can’t go another step without you.” As I abandoned the pursuit of corporate revival God did facilitate a personal revival in my heart. The story involves many chapters but I wanted to share one specific one which I associate with the kingdom of God and the idea of taking it by violence.
As I was being lifted, by God’s kindness, out of my slough of despond, I felt new life and energy stirring in me. Since my tank had been empty, and I had been asking to be filled, I was convinced something good was about to happen. George Eldon Ladd says in his book, The Gospel of the Kingdom, “The kingdom of God is an inward power which enters into the human soul and lays hold of it. It consists of a few basic religious truths of universal application.” This makes me think of Paul’s comment…
I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus…let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. from Phillipians 3:12-16 NAS
I felt as though something had laid hold of me. Was this the violence of Matthew 11:12, I cannot say for certain. I only know that something potent was being birthed within me – a powerful resolve to possess my birthright-identity and destiny which Christ had paid handsomely for. To best describe the contraction I was experiencing, I will refer you to a few of George C. Scott’s lines from the movie Patton…
“I’ve always felt that I was destined for some great achievement, what I don’t know. …The last great opportunity of a lifetime – an entire world at war, and I’m left out of it? God will not permit this to happen! I will be allowed to fulfill my destiny! His will be done.”
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.”
All I can say is that out of my restored identity there was some kind uprising within, saying; “I have a great destiny – a kingdom-destiny.” There was more; this resolve wasn’t just a me–thing. It was an us-thing, “We (the community of God) have a great destiny – a kingdom-destiny.”
I am comfortable with such an apparently egotistical and presumptuous thought solely because Christ lives in me. I am assuming that since Christ lives in us, the emergence and expression of his vibrant life through us will be the prime catalyst for expansion of God’s kingdom. I have come to believe that God is saying that the Church has a corporate appointment with kingdom destiny…
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. Matthew 24:14 NAS
In the past 5 years, I have been converted from a worship leader and teaching elder in a local church (whose heart was nearly comatose) to an untitled person who’s influence has expanded by acknowledging what Ladd called “a few basic religious truths of universal application.” Paul may have called them “standards.” I simply call them kingdom values. Here are 7 that come to mind;
1. God is building a kingdom culture that will never end. Construction began with Jesus Christ. He was the corner stone.
2. We are the living stones who, in their ever increasing resemblance to their elder brother (Jesus), are the material from which this kingdom is being constructed. It will eventually glow as a city set upon a hill for all the world to see.
3. The beach head for the kingdom of God on earth is the human heart where Christ dwells and aspires to rule.
4. Before significant kingdom construction can begin right-of-way must be procured. Kingdom citizens and builders are those who have ceded title over of all that they are to Christ – the Chief Engineer.
5. Before significant construction can begin demolition of old thought structures must be located and torn down.
6. Each of God’s children are strategically located and gifted to fulfill essential kingdom tasks.
7. The role of spiritual fathers is to cast this vision and help sons identify there individual gifts and kingdom assignments.
I will close with a declaration from the Psalms and a prayer.
How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion (God’s kingdom)! Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; the early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength, every one of them appears before God in Zion (His kingdom). O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob! Psalm 84:5-8 (emphasis mine)
Father, We magnify and honor your name above every name. May our hearts yearn for Zion – where your rule of love and law of liberty prevail; where your enemies are vanquished and your friends and children radiate the Life of Christ within them. May our hearts be the ongoing birthing centers of your LIfe here on earth. Yes Lord, we magnify you’re name. Amen.
Some of my closest friends live by the expository sermon. I’m not a preacher but I am a disciple of Jesus Christ and, in light of that high calling and experience, I can offer an expository testimony based on Psalm 131 – a verse by verse account of the hope that is within me…
Verse 1; Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty…. nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.
Can you imagine standing before your fellow believers (with a straight face) saying, “I am not a proud and arrogant person?” In our contemporary Christian culture it has been engrained in us that our hearts are essentially depraved. So, a comment such as this would come off as straightforward heresy. Yet here is David, the man after God’s own heart, making this outrageous boast. Or, is it? Let’s explore…
Something about John Eldridge used to bug me. Most people know that name as the Christian who went Wild at Heart. I was three books into Eldridge before I figured out what had been bothering me; he never talked about our sinful hearts! How could that be! I was deeply suspicious of him since the fact of my fallenness was foundational to the outworking of my salvation. It seems ironic now that the thing that was repulsing me at one level about John Eldridge was attracting me on another. Freedom is like that. It offends the elder brothers while the fatted calf is being slaughtered. Yet, oh how we wished we were invited to that party!
Offended with his freedom, I thought, “What gives John Eldridge the right to go about life climbing mountains and fly fishing while the mission of saving souls was the real business of the great commission?!” I railed inwardly, “Come down from your high places Mr. Eldridge. The harvest which is white and ready to gather is down here not up on your snow capped peaks.” And in the midst of my protest I knew longing, “Oh my…those hallowed God haunted- snow capped peaks.” (If I had access to them I would have capped that paragraph with an upside down question mark and a tear drop. Is their a broken heart emoticon?)
In that season as Mr. Eldridge was busy reeling me in, one book at a time, a dear friend drove into my driveway and handed me a book. They said that the Lord had encouraged them to give this to me. I knew this person’s heart. I trusted them implicitly. The book was He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobson. I thanked them and promptly read the book. It was a chapter by chapter OMG experience for me, filled with tears and upside down question marks. By the time I had finished the book, I knew what someone had told me was true; I was full of religion. The truth was, as our pastor had told me, “Rob, you are hard on me and you’re hard on yourself.” But, at that time, I just didn’t get it.
God was bringing the pot to a rapid boil though. I had laid into a few people recently with an anger I can only describe as volcanic. It was white hot and came unwanted from someplace deep within. It scared me. All was not well with my soul and I knew it. What was wrong with my heart?! It didn’t feel wild. Honestly, it did not even feel alive.
A standing prayer of mine for 35 years had been, “Search me Oh Lord and know my heart and see if there be any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way.” Although I didn’t recognize it immediately, my Father in heaven was busy accomplishing his kingdom’s coming and his will being done on earth (in my heart) as it is in heaven. He was answering my prayers in a way that was exceedingly and abundantly beyond my wildest expectations.
A religious heart is uniquely blind and manic. It sees where others are violating principles while oblivious to its own barrenness. It lives alternately puffed up on the days when things go right and it appears God loves them and it then goes into despair when things go south, convinced that God does not. Here is a revelation that truly blindsided me; a heart can be born again and yet still be functioning with a legalistic law -principled heart. This is the religious prison the elder-brother lives in. He’s a son alright. His heart is just boycotting the party on principle – It’s just not right to receive the father’s affection when no work has been done.
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. Romans 2:14-15 NAS
After spending some focused time with a few people who knew the landscape of the heart and the ways of God in that kingdom-domain, I emerged with something new yet something that I had always had. I had it in principle but not in practice. I could have taught a respectable bible study on our identity in-Christ. I could have pointed you to all the right verses but my heart would have been mostly clueless.
What I had always had was a new identity. After all, I was a new creation in Christ! I was a son of God!! I had been given a brand new nature!!! Yet, with my legalistic and insecure heart (and a ton of help from evangelical preaching), the deepest conviction I held about my life was that I was just-a-sinner saved by grace. My poor track record of devotion and failure to manage my own sin regularly proved out my assumption – my heart was deceitful above all else and beyond understanding just as Jeremiah 17:9 had informed me. I kid you not, this was one of my life verses!
My heart landscape team helped me repent of all the resentment and bitterness that had accumulated in my wounded-religious heart and I was cleansed from those sinful attitudes. A religious stronghold had been torn down. After this heart-house cleaning my vision was restored to see something about myself that God had known all along – I was a beloved son whose hard kingdom labor (or lack of it) did nothing to alter his high opinion and love for me. It became crystal clear that the deepest truth about me was not my fallen nature. It was my new nature! I had finally opened the gift of my birthright – my identity! If you ask me who I am today, the answer is simple, “I am His.” And, quite astonishingly, “He is mine.”
Another verse I had claimed for my life was from Psalm 131, “I do not involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.” For good measure (it was my life after all) I tacked on 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “and make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.” (You would just have to know the past two decades of my life to see what a good sense of humor God has and what he thinks about my right to claim verses for my life.)
Verse 2: Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.
Ah….”rest”, that condition of the heart that is secure in the love of God and in Christ. Rest is a state of grace that can only be experienced when one has been weaned from their labors to please God. Seeking God in a religious fever, as if either he or ourselves are lost, is nonsense and will obscure our true identities as sons and friends of God. We already have him if we have truly entrusted ourselves to Christ. He already has us. Its not a matter of finding him. Its a matter of composing our hearts in quiet, living is simple gratitude that he has found and has claimed us as his own forevermore!
Verse 3; Israel, (for us “Church”) hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever.
Father, let our boast be that we are yours. If we remain yet in bondage, help us to see the ransom that was paid. Restore the foundations of this temple of yours on earth, which is our hearts. For the balance of our days teach us to live and fight as sons instead of sinners. Let us discover our strength in our rest. Further reveal the mystery to us of Christ in us the hope of all future glory. Put your enemies to flight and establish your kingdom. We give you permission to do as you wish with our hearts. And Lord we shall hope in you forevermore. Amen.