Sunday, January 30, 2022

Hebrew Word Study: Tela' The Wounded Lamb

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of hard service is over,
her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled;
the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

A voice was saying, “Cry out!” Another said, “What should I cry out?”
“All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”

Zion, herald of good news, go up on a high mountain.
Jerusalem, herald of good news, raise your voice loudly.
Raise it, do not be afraid! Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with strength, and his power establishes his rule. His wages are with him, and his reward accompanies him. He protects his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them in the fold of his garment. He gently leads those that are nursing." -Isaiah 40:1-11

We’re starting a new series today titled “Hebrew Word Study” and each week we’re going to look at a different Hebrew word, it’s context, and the depth of meaning found in it. And we’re going to learn more about God, by understanding the depth and power of the Hebrew language. Are you excited? I’m super excited.

Our first word is the Hebrew word “tela’” it means “lamb.” Our context is from Isaiah chapter 40 verses 1-11. Isaiah is one of my favorite prophets, because the message he brings is difficult but also encouraging, because there is hope attached to it.

We see God speaking through Isaiah to Israel in chapter 40, saying to the people, your time of hard service and struggle is ending. They’ve been punished by God, because they’ve wandered. They’ve worshiped false idols. They’ve turned against God. They’ve broken all his commands. Never-the-less God says there’s hope.

Verses 3-5 are really a prophecy about the coming of John the Baptist, who would “prepare the way” for Jesus, so Jesus would have a straight path to travel, so that people would be ready for his coming. And verses 9-11 is a prophecy of Jesus Christ himself coming… and then we see in verse 11, “11 He protects his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms”

First we want to understand the meaning of the word shepherd here. The Hebrew word here for shepherd is “ra-ah” pronounced “rah-ah.” There are numerous words for shepherd in Hebrew. But this word rah-ah indicates a “consuming passion.” And actually the Semitic root word here is “ra” which means evil. So in common language today, if we were speaking Hebrew, we would use the word ‘rah-ah’ to describe an addiction, like a drug addiction or a shopping addiction. It’s a consuming passion that takes over our lives, you might say, something overpowering. But this Hebrew word, for shepherd, can also be a consuming passion that is a good thing. Like if I’m your pastor, I have a consuming passion for you to know Jesus and follow Him. If you’re a parent, you have a consuming passion to keep your children safe and healthy. So here we see a shepherd, which his really talking about Jesus, having a consuming passion, a consuming love for the sheep, which is us. We’re the sheep.

So then we come to the word “tela’” which means lamb. Now, there are actually 9 other words in Hebrew for a lamb. But this is the only place in the entire Bible where the Hebrew word tela is used to say lamb.

Tela means lamb, but it actually indicates in particular a lamb that is “blemished, spotted, or wounded.” So this is not a perfect spotless lamb, instead we see the shepherd consumed with loving passion for an imperfect, blemished, dirty, or wounded lamb.

It kind of gives you a picture of a lamb who is limping behind the flock. A lamb who is sickly, who can’t keep up, a lamb who is not following the master properly, who is wandering off alone and into trouble. Or a lamb who keeps playing in the mud and making a mess.

So we see God portrayed as the shepherd, and the lamb, is us, and God is seeing us, a big mess, and coming to us, and picking us up, cradling us in his arms, all messy, but He is consumed with love and care for this lost wounded lamb.

A lot of us here at dinner church are black sheep of the family, aren’t we? I was the lamb who had gone astray, and fell down a cliff, and into a ravine, and into a mud puddle, and broken my leg, and smeared feces all over my wool. But there was one pursuing me, with consuming love, and he’s pursuing you as well, with consuming love, gentle love, the love of a shepherd. And he will carry you to safety if you let Him. Truly he will carry you to safety, with great love. The messed up one, is who he came for, you and me.

Toward a more Complete Christian Walk: 7 Things I Learned from Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, Apologists, Pentecostals, & Wesleyans

I really enjoy reading books and studying ideas from outside my denominational framework. I believe God works through many different denominations, not just the one that I'm a part of. So I like to see, what am I maybe missing that other denominations are doing? What do they believe?  How do they practice their faith? 

In my faith journey I've gone from being raised Catholic, to being Baptist, and then to The Salvation Army, and I've experienced many other traditions as well in various ways, from reading books to watching sermons. 

So today we're looking at the topic, how can we follow Jesus better by looking at what other faith traditions do and believe. That's a mouth full. 

We're going to look at 5 groups, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptist Evangelical, Apologetics movement, and Pentecostals. And a look at Wesleyan holiness. 

I'm a truth seeker. I'm always looking for the truth, sifting through the word of God, seeking to understand it more clearly and practice it more faithfully. I think we should all be truth seekers. So as we consider these 7 areas, I want you to put your truth seeker cap on. Take what you can, to apply to your faith practice, so it's more beautiful and more biblical in Christ. 

You see the beautiful cathedral, the beautiful architecture, the stained glass windows, the candles burning, the incense. You hear the organ playing, the altar, the paintings and statues. It's so very different from what we do here isn't it? 

Catholicism and protestantism are the two major categories of Christians in the world today. We fall under that protestant umbrella. Catholicism is something completely different. 

Here we find the value of liturgy, and physical manifestations of faith. The touching of the senses. Candles burning. Confessions of faith repeated over and over with the lips. The smell of incense in the nostrils. Stained glass windows with light shining through, beauty to the eyes. The wafer and the wine in the mouth, to be tasted. Statues and artwork to be seen. 

I was raised Catholic, but I never really connected to it. Going back into a Catholic church later in life, I discovered a great joy in the reciting of the truths of the scriptures. It can be Spirit-filled, is what I learned when reconnecting with it later in life.

The beauty of the physical is at work in the ornate chapels and basilicas of the Catholic faith. The reciting of the truths of the Christian faith bring a fresh theological depth to an increasingly luke-warm, shallow Christianity of today based on simplistic Christian rock choruses that tend to glorify love more so than the God who is both merciful and holy. The repetition of liturgy can help guide us toward a more theologically deep and meaningful practice of our faith. Physical manifestations can remind us that God is a God of our world. 

Next, Lutheranism. I studied Luther and the reformation a great deal in college at Liberty, and graduate school at ONU, and on my own, reading books, and reading his essays. I think in studying Martin Luther, the great reformer, and the reformation, when Luther really established the protestant movement, away from the Catholic church, I find the value of the all-sufficiency of Christ. 

Christ is everything. Everything is about Christ. Jesus is the savior. He's the one who washes away our sins. Of the millions of sins on record, there is not even one I can scrub away on my own. I could scrub all day. I could scrub and repent and do good deeds, all day long. But I can't wash away sin. Not even one. Only Jesus can do that. Jesus is the reason. Jesus is the hope. Jesus is the atonement for sin. Jesus is sufficient. Thank you Luther, for that.

Next, we consider Calvinism. What is Calvinism? Well it's an off-shoot of the reformation movement started by Luther. John Calvin was very focused on pre-destination and developed the TULIP, the 5 main points of Calvinism.

Really today the majority of the most popular preachers and speakers in the United States today are Calvinists. These include speakers like John Piper, John MacArthur, John R.W. Stott, Alistair Begg, DA Carson, Wayne Grudem, Mark Driscoll, Paul Washer, Tim Keller, I could go on and on, basically every big name in evangelical Christianity is a Calvinist. So I found myself heavily influenced by these speakers in my faith walk. 

Though I strongly disagree theologically with all five points of the calvinist TULIP, there was a lot of good to learn from Calvinism.  

The most important truth I took away from Calvinism was the utterly highest regard for scripture. They call this biblical inerrancy. 

How much do we trust the word of God? In my experience, our regard for the word of God is so utterly low, it's absolutely appalling. We turn up our nose at scriptures we dislike. We skip over the difficult scriptures, and emphasize the lovey-dovey ones. We white-wash and blot out the scriptures about hell and judgment. We second guess Paul, John, and even Jesus. It's sad.

Calvinists I disagree with on a great deal, and I believe their "once saved always saved" doctrine to be no less than a doctrine of hell itself, but I'll give them this, they have the highest regard for the word of God. Sadly, in our tradition they see it as "sufficient for Christian faith and practice." What a sad, limiting refrain. The word of God describes all of reality. It's perfect, glorious, beautiful, a depiction of the truth about all of reality, not just matters directly related to faith and practice. Inerrancy shows the highest regard for the word of God. If only we loved it this much, and had such a high regard for it.

But often I find that Christians give lip service to the word of God, but instead seem to live by whatever the latest pop philosophical or psychological trend is, or by whatever the news media and pop academic establishment repeat enough times.  

Next, the Baptist Evangelical movement. This for me really encompasses much more than Converge Great Lakes or Converge international, or E-Free, or non-denominational churches. This is really the "in between the lines" representing so many churches across the country.  My grandpa got saved in a baptist evangelical church. So did my mom. And I later joined a baptist evangelical church and attended faithfully for several years where I was baptized and born again.  

From the Baptist evangelical movement I really took the importance of sharing the gospel.  Usually we think of sharing the gospel as the job of the minister or the elders. But that's not biblical. It's the job of every single Christian to know the gospel individually and to share the gospel with others. 

This lit my faith afire, realizing the great need of the world for Jesus. And I learned to be "evangelical" to be an individual who makes it his mission to pop a Christian bumper sticker on his car, to post my faith on Facebook, to pray for the people in my neighbor, to talk to strangers and tellers and cashiers about Jesus, and to hand out tracts and give out Bibles.  

Do you have that attitude of sharing the gospel everywhere? Are you a one man or one woman soldier of God blasting that word of God out there everywhere you go?  I learned that in the baptist evangelical movement. Share it! Get it out there! Any possible way you can! It's your job, nobody else will do it for you. 

Next, the Apologetics movement. This isn't really a denomination per say, but a movement within a lot of churches, seminaries, and particularly on the internet. 

About a year after I became a Christian I asked the Lord a simple prayer: Lord help me understand my faith.  And God led me to learn apologetics from some of the greatest Christian apologists of today and the past, people like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, Greg Koukl, Dinesh D'Souza, John Lennox, and Lee Strobel. 

I learned the key arguments for the existence of God, the kalam cosmological argument, the argument from design, the moral argument, the ontological argument and so on. I learned about the historical evidence for Jesus, the manuscript evidence for the Bible, and scientific evidence that confirmed the Christian God's existence. It was an incredible time in my life and I still draw on that wealth of knowledge as I grow in my faith.  

Next, Pentecostals. I began to learn to experience God directly. For a long time I had an over-abundance of orthodoxy. I had a great deal of head knowledge, that's how I thought of Christianity, like it was a text-book set of concepts, philosophies, and ideas. It was very formulaic. And with many calvinists and christian apologists I turned my nose up at the supernatural in many ways. But over time I came to realize, there was something there, that I was missing, a passionate, deep, experiential relationship with God. 

I've come to realize that I can experience God, and indeed I must experience and be deeply connected with God. It's more than a relationship, it's a romance, a marriage. There's no word for it. But it's joy. It's love, a special love, between creator and creation. We ought to have a Pentecostal faith, a faith that believes and expects more from God than we do now. 

We ought to expect the supernatural from God. God is still at work. And the heights of connection with him are still to be found and explored, if we'll dive deeper and further, and believe God on His word. It's a dangerous level of experience, which can make us feel uncomfortable, but we often say "it's about a relationship" and then we don't really live that out. It is a deep, experiential relationship and God pours into that relationship if we'll just dig deeper and stay longer with Him.

What if we prayed for hours like many Pentecostals do? What if we really believed that God does heal? What if we dare ask God for the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues? What if we believed that God still speaks in dreams and visions and prophecy today? Is that unthinkable, terrible? But I found myself sneering at such suggestions today with many top speakers and apologists. I don't sneer anymore.  I'm done sneering. I'm listening, and learning a deeper more rich relationship with God, while also testing all things by the word of God and prayer. 

I've read books like Heaven is so Real by Choo Thomas, and A Land Unknown: Hell's Dominion by Brian Melvin. I've listened to speakers like Mary K. Baxter, Sid Roth, Mark Brown, Howard Pittman, Ken Peters, Sarah Boyanga, Angelica Zambrano, Pastor Robert Clancy, Tomi Arayomi, and others. And I would've missed out on so much if I hadn't gone down these ancient roads.

Lastly, we consider the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. And of course I'm part of The Salvation Army, which is nestled within the Wesleyan Holiness movement along with denominations like Church of the Nazarene, Methodism, and Wesleyan churches. 

I had gone through basic Christian training from Christian Leaders Institute. I had studied the Christian religion in my bachelors studies at Liberty University. But it wasn't until I attended The Salvation Army training college seminary, and later ONU graduate school, did I learn about something that changed my faith forever. 

I had inerrancy. I had Arminian theology. I had the missional approach. I even had apologetics to arm me to defend my faith. Not only that, I was learning to experience God in deep relationship. But despite all that, I felt and knew, something was missing from the equation.  

Despite all these beautiful elements of faith, why did so many churches look so much like the world? Why were so many Christians living in active sin? Why were so many pastors addicted to pornography? Why were Christians departing from the faith left and right? Why despite our missional attitude did we see so little fruit and why did the church have so little impact on today's culture? Why did sex scandal after sex scandal flow out of evangelical Christian megachurches? Why did I feel lukewarm, one foot in and one foot out, why did I feel that God was calling me toward some sort of maturity beyond my muddled state?

And the Lord brought before me Wesleyan-holiness theology. The radical idea, that Christians today were not only washed clean from sin's penalty, but that in Christ, Christian's can live holy and pure, victorious over sin. This was a radical proposition to me. Because every Christian around me including myself was living in various active sins of the flesh.  And I had always been taught Christians will always keep sinning in this world. They can't stop. 

But soon I discovered in the word of God that again and again Jesus, Paul, John, Peter, all across the New Testament I never saw a single Bible verse that gave me permission to remain in active sins. Instead I saw time and again, that we're called to live pure in Christ, called to the process of sanctification, called to growth in conforming to the image of Christ, called to "be holy as God is holy" 1st Peter 1:14-16. 

I realized that if I as a Christian died living in active sins, and came before God, I would be judged, and condemned to hell. Not because I had failed to do works or something. But because after putting on the perfect garment of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, I had dirtied my robe, and had refused to repent of active sins, because I'd been taught sinning was OK.

This was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted to think I could go on sinning. I wanted to think I could never really be pure. I wanted to think that I was eternally secure and I could sin all I wanted. But I realized with fear and with great hope, that I was called to live out purity in response to what Christ had done for me.  I had found the missing piece of the puzzle, holiness unto the Lord. 

I knew Jesus Christ had paid off my debt of sin. I knew I could not add a single work to any of it. My job then was simply to not dirty the perfect garment he had given me. And if I did, to repent, turn to Jesus, and he would wash me clean again and again along the way. And that was the missing piece. It brought it all together beautifully. But I continue to grow as a Christian. And I'm excited to see what God teaches me next. Thanks be to God, for the pilgrims progress, the journey we walk as Christians.  That is my theological and practical journey thus far, and what I've learned by exploring various traditions.  What can you learn and grow in here? How can you grow closer to God and believe and live out his word for fully? That is the question I leave you with today. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Matrix Resurrections: What's really going on in The Matrix?

What's really going on in the matrix? What story is being told?  Many have speculated about this. There are critiques of government, power, capitalism, and so on. There are spiritual elements.  But what is the rock bottom story being told? To really understand the matrix and what is happening, and why it's so profound and hits us so deeply, we have to understand theology.  So yours truly is here to help.

Your Mind = will be blown. You may find this conclusion astonishing, but stay with me, as I explain the parallels.  But yes, your mind is about to be completely blown. 

The matrix, the entire series, including resurrections, is about an attempt to stalemate God. The goal, to defeat God, force God into a truce, and circumvent the world system that God has created. I know, sounds crazy doesn't it?  But stay with me here.

The matrix is the coded reality in which humans are kept under control. Agents protect the system. There are convening powers, machines, that designed and set up the matrix. Humans are trapped within it. 

Fundamentally, the matrix is portraying a view of the universe we all currently live in, from the perspective of rebellion against God's system.  So the matrix we see in the films, is how someone like Lucifer (Satan) would view God, the universe we live in, and the human race. Let me repeat that, the matrix is portraying the world as it is right this second.

I'm going to draw a diagram here of the theological comparisons, let's take a look:

The Matrix = the planet earth as it is today

Agents = angels (servants of God who protect and defend the system and the people in it)

The Architect  = God the Father (the designer of the matrix system)

Agent Smith = Jesus Christ (God in human form, machine in human form you might say)

The War between humans & Machines = the great spiritual battle for the souls of humanity

The Scorching of the Sky = The Fall event in Genesis

Zion = hell

Hovership crews = demons

Residents of Zion = people in hell

Morpheus = the false prophet of revelation

Neo = the anti-Christ

The Oracle = the oracle at Delphi typological figure (perhaps Satan)

Trinity = the sacred feminine, Holy Spirit in feminine form

Fight between Neo and Smith = Final battle of Armageddon

Where do these ideas come from? It has a certain flavor of Gnosticism, Greek philosophy's theological response to early Christianity. It accepts many of the attributes and baselines of Christian theology but twists much of it. In Gnosticism God is viewed as just one of many deities. God is actually viewed as a lower deity who is capricious and evil, sort of a bizarre tyrant that the human race is trapped under, and needs to escape from. It tends to view Jesus and Lucifer as brothers with equal power. It views the system as fundamentally evil, the physical is viewed as evil, and the spiritual is the only escape. And the escape is made via secret knowledge. But it's not quite Gnosticism. 

You might say it's Gnosticism blended with the ancient mystery religion of the Babylonian society, and perhaps even Satanism. But I'm not going to speculate too much on roots, that's not the purpose here.

We see in the films that the plight of Zion is extremely severe. They exist in the last human city, near the center of the Earth (similar to how hell is often characterized.)  Then you have the hovership crews, hacking into the matrix, to "set souls free" from the matrix system. But when you see the power of the machines, coupled with the power of the agents to defeat the hovership crews that access the matrix, you get a taste of what it must be like to be a demon attacking the Earth. 

They must travel from hell, through whatever "heavens" exist between here and there, and they work attacking and destroying people in the matrix, the Earth. Angels, God's messengers protect the system and they protect Christians. Demons are absolutely no match for angels. Angels crush demons with ease, just like agents are able to easily defeat even the most skilled fighters, like Morpheus (see the fight between Agent Smith and Morpheus in the first film.)

It's a hopeless situation for Zion and the various humans still left fighting the machines. In the same way, it's a hopeless situation for rebellious humans, demons, and their leader Satan. But in many ways these demonic forces are no longer what they originally were. 

Satan used to be Lucifer, a leader in God's community, in God's reality, what we call "heaven." And demons used to be angels, workers, builders, clerks, and various functionary positions within God's reality. 

But at some point in the infinite past, apparently this Lucifer leader, making use of free will and a grand delusion, decided he ought to rebel and encourage rebellion against the God of heaven.  Lucifer must've been a very convincing being, because according to the Bible, one-third of the angels joined his rebellion (Revelation 12:4). They rebelled, and were quickly defeated.  How that played out, I would love to see it for myself, what exactly happened, but at this point I'm not aware. We do get some hints in Ezekiel though, from Ezekiel 28:13-19 "You corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor." Perhaps Lucifer was on a quest for greater and greater wisdom in God's realm, but that quest led to a sort of cancer of the mind, that spread throughout his soul. Perhaps he birthed a grand delusion, a bizarre realization of his own beautiful genius, and a self-focus that grew and grew, until his own genius, beauty, and wisdom gave birth to pride-filled rebellion. And the madness spread like a cancer, destroying him.

In any case, this rebellion was quickly stopped by the Creator. I have to marvel at the profound madness of rebelling against the first cause of everything. On what level of thinking does that ever become a good idea? Can I rebel against the wind? Can I rebel against the sky, the stars, or the universe? How could I ever succeed? How can a limited being, who didn't even exist before 1985 hope to succeed in war against a being so powerful it literally has no beginning or end, whom invented all the five senses, and crafted my soul from nothing? Truly a bizarre quest, how could the angels who joined him think they could succeed?

But in any case, I've digressed, the point being, Lucifer and these rebel angels under-went a transformation of a terrible nature when their rebellion failed. They were judged by God, at the same moment that Adam and Eve fell. In His judgment God said, "You will eat the dust of the ground" to the serpent. This must be an indication of the dark transformation put upon them. These rebels went from angels of light, to beings of profound darkness. At the same moment humanity went from innocent to fallen in conscience.

If you want a possible visual, from the Darren Aronofsky version of the Noah story, when the angels fall, they become sort of "rock monsters" in the movie. Interesting visual for the concept, if nothing else.

The only purpose that Lucifer and the rebel angels have anymore, is as Satan and demons, horrid creatures of evil. Was God wrong to judge them in this way? No I don't think so. He simply transformed them physically and mentally into what they had already chosen to pursue. He turned them into what they had already become in their hearts. 

Satan and demons' only purpose now is built into the cursed Earth system, to tempt, deceive, and destroy humans. Why are we as humans subject to that? Because let us not forget, we as humans joined the rebellion. Our ancestors did anyway. We put ourselves under the sway of the deceiver, and now we find ourselves in that predicament. 

But there is still hope for us as humans, unlike the demons. Their judgment is set. 

And the entire system now, as God has set it up, is for humans to make the choice between life and death. I couldn't help but think about that grand choice before every human right now as I sat in the theatre watching the "coffee shop choice scene" of The Matrix Resurrections where Trinity makes her choice.

So the agents are angels defending the system, and Morpheus and his hovership crew are demons attacking the system. But they stand no chance against the angels. 

So they are waiting for the prophecy of the one who will come and bring the grand victory over the matrix system.  That is the prophecy of the coming of the anti-Christ. 

The anti-Christ seems to appear to be the real Christ, he'll be heralded by a prophet, he'll rule and reign, he'll defeat his enemies, perform false miracles, and so on and so forth. He'll have total control of the world. The anti-Christ is essentially a forgery of the real Christ. 

In the films some have theorized that Neo is not really the one. They are correct. The one is Smith. Smith represents the Christ, who "found a way to copy himself." This fits Christian theology somewhat, in that Christians among other things are considered "little Christs" or "the hands and feet of Christ in the world." Similarly Smith copies himself, until the entire world is a copy of Smith. 

Of course we know that Neo comes, he fights agent Smith, and he is killed. Similarly the anti-Christ is said to receive a wound in his life, but was miraculously healed of it (Revelation 13:12). Neo is killed by Smith, but comes back to life in the first film, and he now sees the matrix and understands it, and is then able to overcome it. 

In the next films the battle rages on between humanity and the machines. It culminates in the final battle between Neo and Smith at the end of the third movie.  Christ vs. Anti-Christ. We know this moment also comes in the Christian Bible, in Revelation, Christ returns and defeats the beast, the false prophet, and the anti-Christ, and sets up his millennial kingdom on the broken Earth. Very interesting, right? 

But this is where the Wachowski brothers depart from that timeline, in hope of another. I suppose this is the hope of many of those in our world who reject God, hate God, and view God as evil and even monstrous. The hope is that somehow the anti-Christ will be able to defeat Jesus, or defeat God, or destroy God somehow, or perhaps force God into some sort of stalemate, where they can create their own world, apart from God's universal system. 

That was the assertion of Friedrich Nietzsche, now that I've killed God, what shall we do to replace him? We'll have to invent sacred games. We'll have to build pyres in the sky to light the way. We'll have to create our own meaning for reality. 

The great flaw of existentialism was suggesting we could create our own meaning, as if reality will change to fit whatever we want. But it doesn't. If I want to jump into the sky and become a bird, I can want to all I want, it doesn't happen. There is already a fixed, objective meaning in the world, it's up to me to find it, not invent it.

That is of course the desire, or perhaps better stated the deception of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, If you disobey God, and take the fruit, you'll become like God, and you can redefine good, evil, right, wrong, reality itself to be whatever you want it to be. I'm paraphrasing. 

Neo, and Trinity must journey to the machine city, and somehow negotiate a deal with the machine consciousness. Neo ends up before the "baby-face" machine face, a classic depiction of God as evil, or simplistic, somewhat like viewing God as a kid with an ant-farm, you might say, a gnostic tyrant, simple and wicked. But none-the-less in total control.  Neo negotiates with the machine-consciousness to bring an end to the cycle of war, and force a truce. 

Philosophy, theology, ideologies, simulation, reality, free will, determinism, predestination, choice, all of these ideas are explored in the Matrix films, which is what makes them so powerful and appealing. 

For me as a Christian, I could see early on many of the Christ-like qualities in Neo, and a sort of John the Baptist motif in Morpheus. And the spiritual battle to win people to Christ in the efforts of the hovership crews to free minds. But over time as I've thought about it, I realized I was wrong. 

I truly under-estimated the brilliance of the Wachowski brothers. They crafted something very special here. But it is definitely, as far as I can tell, a sort of allegory about God, and the great controversy of the Lucifer figure. Then again, they may have pieced this together with completely different motives, but none-the-less the central theme of the great controversy, the spiritual battle for the souls of humanity wrote itself into the narrative without them even realizing it. Such is life, believe me, it writes itself over and over across all of reality. Why? Because it's the actual truth, beyond all the views, philosophies, ideologies, perspectives, and delusions out there. 

But in the Matrix series, the heroes of the story are not God and Jesus and the angels, the heroes of the story are Lucifer, the anti-Christ and the demonic forces of the power of the air. Never-the-less we see the most important themes of our reality, our universe, our lives play themselves out in the world the Wachowski's crafted.

It really all does come down to choice. It comes down to free will. The entire universe is watching right now, as you decide which choice you will make.  It's like the final scene of The Matrix Resurrections. The huge, massive, intergalactic moment of choice, for Neo and Trinity, at the coffee shop.  That's your life.  You're the one making the choice. 

Indeed we all make the choice everyday. Most of us are completely deceived by Satan's system.  The crazy thing is, though the matrix is a creation of God, in our world, we do really live in a matrix of Satan's crafting according to Christianity. He has temporary control over this temporary construct. As the book says "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). 

The matrix is real, we're in it. I kid you not! I don't simply mean that in reference to the power of Satan to deceive us. I mean this world, this universe is a simulation created by God, apart from what's actually real. But then again it's real enough, given it's ramifications. But it is a temporary construct destined to be destroyed.  

It's a last opportunity, for humanity, for every human, to escape into the real world.  The real world is out there. We are indeed in a matrix right now.  It's our last chance. 

But the one deceiving us is Satan, he wants us to think he's the good guy, and we need to remake reality to suite ourselves. Why do we assume that the end all be all comes down to our own personal preference? That we shape reality?  It's the great lie that was planted at the tree. A great part of you believes it. But there's another part of you that knows the truth is out there... there's something more you're missing.  

This reality, this matrix we currently reside in, is the grand moment at the coffee shop, between Neo and Trinity. The moment of the choice. It's an impossibly difficult choice. We must choose Christ, and righteousness, things we internally despise, because we're programmed to this broken system. Indeed, most choose the matrix, they choose this life, with it's petty pleasures, money, food, power, sex, and all that. From what I can tell something like 99% of people choose the matrix. And they receive an eternal punishment, in a place called hell. This reality is so difficult to bear, it's unthinkably terrible, but here we are. 

What about you? 

What will you choose? The blue pill keeps us asleep. Just believe whatever you want to believe. Believe men can become women, women can become men. Believe there is no God. Believe nature is all there is. Believe that you can make utopia if you just get enough technology and scientific progress.

But there is that red pill available. The extremely difficult truth behind it all.  We're sin. We're the problem. And only Christ can make us new, give us new birth, rebirth, resurrection, you might say, so that we can be part of a new world. Truly, the real world, and escape this temporary matrix that is destined for destruction. The matrix will eventually be deleted. And dual realities will be revealed, the reality of heaven and the reality of hell. 

Heaven is reality as it truly is. A "new" universe and a "new" Earth. But it's simply as they were always intended to be. Indeed, this is the matrix. Right now. Literally, right now, we are in the matrix, as I write these words. Crazy scary stuff right?  So why doesn't God just come out and show himself? Choice, my friends. Free will. You would not have a free choice to make, you'd be forced in a way to believe.  Your free will is sacred. Your choice is sacred.

Hell is also a reality. From NDEs I've studied, it seems to be made up of infinite cubes. These cubes are prison cells of a sort, quarantine zones, for those who have rejected the Christ, and made the wrong choice. 

So here we are, seated in the coffee shop, everything is telling you that I'm insane, I'm evil, I'm a liar, you've been propagandized up and down by this world to hate God, to resent God, to think God is evil and bad, how interesting that we're all constantly told that by the media, Hollywood, the world, isn't it? Fascinating really.  In fact, you hate it yourself. Just like Neo, when he became sick on the hovership, in the first film, realizing the horror of the nightmare scenario he found himself in. 

Truly we do find ourselves in a nightmare scenario. We're in the matrix. We're condemned, in fact, found to be sin, a cancer on the system that must be wiped out, destroyed. The fall took place, it's real, and it affects us without even realizing it. It's written into our personalities, into who we are, yet here we are. Will I believe a lie? Will I take the blue pill? Or the red pill?

We have one last opportunity. In the flickering darkness, that we can hardly see, a God-man two thousand years ago, nailed to a tree, to wipe out our sin, to clean away the problem, and make us new people, pure, and as such able to access true reality, outside this broken, fallen, ticking clock matrix. The world will end, as the oracle said to Niobe. 

But here is your option, you could continue to believe that humanity will overcome death, that humanity will find a way to turn the Earth into a utopia apart from God. You could believe that Lucifer is here to help you, and demons are your friends. You could believe that with technology, science, and philosophy humanity will become immortal. Many seem to believe things along those lines. The blue pill. 

God himself is watching right now, to see what choice you make. Could you really make that impossible choice, to turn to Jesus Christ, and become part of the new world that will soon be revealed? Could you escape this deception-filled matrix of horrors? Or will you burn, in the pit of eternal fire, in separate cubes, one by one by the billions, quarantine boxes, for those souls that could not quite turn to Jesus, who refused Christ, and embraced evil? The red pill. Such a hard pill to swallow. So few take it. But... here is your chance matrix fans.

What is your choice? Maybe I'm a liar? Maybe I'm not. You must decide. Could you do that terrible unthinkable thing... and deny yourself? 

I'm afraid I must break the fifth wall for a moment... The entire goal of this write up, was for one of the Wachowski brothers, Larry or Andy, to read these words, and realize the matrix, and put their faith in Christ. It was a random prayer thrown up to God, long ago... so if you're reading these words... it worked. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

7 Power Prayers to Supplement your Prayer Life

These are seven power prayers to supplement your personal prayer time with God.  Feel free to print these out and use them as you feel led by the Spirit.  Personal prayer time is so vital to an intimate relationship with God.  The honest, heart felt cries we make to God are properly supplemented by these more formulaic prayers.  Enjoy 

Prayer of Delighting
Father God in Heaven,
We come boldly into your presence in the name of Jesus Christ. We have full access to the throne room through Jesus, so we come boldly before you God. We seek you now. We seek you Father in all your fullness.
We need you God, your guiding arm, your wisdom, your mighty power,
God you we delight in you,
Your perfect presence is joy to me!
God we delight in you.
God we delight in you.
(Repeat as needed as you enjoy the presence of God)

Prayer of Magnificence
God you are a Mystery to me,
you dwell in infinite time, you dwell beyond time itself,
there was no universe before you, and there was nothing before you. You are the originator of all things.
You dreamt me up inside your mind and decided I should exist.
You created an eternal soul for me.
You spun my DNA and placed the stars across the cosmos.
You made the animals for me to live with.
I'm in awe of you Lord.
Truly I ask the question: Who are you Lord really? Who are you really? Show me your glory!
Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. (1 Chron 29:11)

Prayer of Holiness
Father Lord, 
change me, mold me, shape me, transform me into the likeness of Christ Jesus. 
Remove from me what displeases you, 
shape and mold what is good in me, 
develop my talents, shape my skills, renew my mind, 
renew my spirit, renew my soul, 
help me to not complain as I go through the times of testing and tribulation. 
Guide me safely into your loving arms in perfect holiness in Christ Jesus, spotless and blameless on the day of Christ Jesus, 
In Jesus name, Amen.

Prayer of Mercy
Lord I am in need of your mercy today. 
Please God, have mercy on me. 
The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. 
I grow weak Father, shine upon me. Release your angels in the name of Jesus to protect me. 
I'm powerless Father, please take it from me. 
Have mercy Father, have mercy, please have mercy, the flesh besets me, but you are greater God, 
I have great faith in you, I trust in you, come quickly Father, and deliver me, in Jesus name, amen. 

Prayer of Marriage Blessing
Beloved God, hear my prayer,
Father I bring my marriage before you,
You know all the moments, all the words, the emotions, the battles and the victories, 
Lord, please draw us together always,
Marriage is under such attack Father,
Let us believe no lies about marriage and what it means,
Let us never part ways, 
Let us always hold together,
Help us to give ground to one another,
Soften our hearts in conflicts,
We rebuke and cast our demons attacking our marriage,
We cancel demonic schemes against our marriage,
We loose angels to protect our marriage,
Lord build our marriage with eternal bonds,
May we always draw nearer to you God, and as such, draw nearer to each other, in Jesus name, amen.

Prayer of Melancholy
Father God, another day stretches out before me,
I am weary with this life, I'm tired of fighting the battle,
Everyday is a new struggle Father,
Everyday seems to turn more gray, and empty,
Lord, rise up and bring seasons of refreshing,
Lord, fill my cup with love to pour out to others,
Renew in me a right spirit, be with me in tribulation,
Help me not to give up, 
I turn away from self, and focus on you God,
I turn toward you God in the gray day and tired day,
I cry out to you God, and wait on you patiently,
Lord help me to endure this life,
In Jesus name, Amen. 

Prayer of Sin Battle
Lord, the pit closes in around me,
I find myself enslaved once again to sin,
I've fallen into temptation,
The enemy has led me astray,
So I run toward my heavenly Father,
Who will help me in time of need,
I am grieved by my sin,
I am disturbed by the horror this door has opened,
I see the evil gaining a foothold,
Lord God Almighty, have mercy on me,
Please forgive me for my sin,
Please forgive me by the blood of Jesus,
I repent before you now God, I turn away from that sin, and toward you God,
I seek your Face,
Please forgive me, guide me out of darkness, I turn this problem over to you, please do what I can't do God.
Do the impossible. Set me free,
In Jesus name, Amen

Sunday, January 23, 2022

7 Pictures of the Gospel: Healing Gospel, Grace Gospel, Penal Sub, Defeat of Satan, and Social Gospel

We all have a certain way we explain the gospel to ourselves and to those who need it.  I've heard the various formulas many times. Which one is most accurate? How do they fit together? Let's take a look.

Hurt/Healing Gospel

This is a popular gospel for the post-modern age. Common in megachurches. It goes something like this: You're in pain, you're hurting, you're discouraged and depressed and life seems meaningless. So turn to Jesus and he will heal you, he will help you, he will turn your life around, he will give you a new purpose. Jesus understands what you're going through and he's going to help you and heal you and carry you through. Believe in Jesus and you'll come out of darkness and into the light. 

This is certainly an aspect of the gospel, isn't it? But it's not the whole gospel.  It's just a part of it.  It limits Jesus to a sort of self-help guru who came to give you a better life. Of course that is somewhat true of Christ, he does give us a purpose and new desires and light to see the world as it truly is.  But that's just part of the gospel.  

Works/Grace Gospel

This is a popular gospel in baptist and non-denominational churches. It focuses on the dichotomy between grace and works.  It goes something like this: The main problem we face as humans is that we try to do good works instead of believe in Jesus.  Your good works are as filthy rags before Jesus. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion can save you. Only Jesus. Only grace. Any works you do are simply trying to do good works for your salvation instead of trust in Jesus. So only grace is allowed, and any works are immediately suspect, viewed as a believer attempting work for what God has already done. 

This is a generally valid angle on the gospel, the idea that for some, they will be obsessed with doing good works to try to appease God, which is completely useless. So they need to instead rest in Christ, by faith. But this concept does not necessarily apply to all people. This is again an aspect of the gospel, but not the whole gospel. And when we over-emphasize it, we end up distorting scripture. 

Courtroom Gospel (Penal Substitutionary Atonement)

This is by far my favorite depiction of the gospel, I think it outlines it in the clearest form. Fairly common in reformed churches. It goes like this: You owe a debt before God that you can never repay.  That is the list of sins that you have committed over your life.  You can't do any good deeds to repay for these sins. So you stand condemned before God, to hell. But Jesus Christ the God man came in human form, lived a perfect life, died, and rose again, to give you new life.  Jesus paid off your debt before God, on the cross, and if you will believe in Him and repent of your sins, you will enter into the "great exchange" your sins are transferred to Christ on the cross and Christ's righteousness is transferred to you. You are born again, and begin a whole new life.

Once again, this is an important part of the gospel, I would argue the most important, never-the-less it's not the complete gospel, there are other aspects to consider. And if we over-emphasize this portion of the gospel we can end up having believers thinking Jesus died for them but doesn't live for them, and doesn't bless them in any way apart from paying on their behalf. 

Defeat of Satan Gospel (Christus Victor)

This is a less common angle of the gospel but non-the-less it's quite valid, it goes like this: Because Adam and Eve rebelled against God, this put Adam and Eve, and the entire human race in bondage, caught in slavery to sin and death under the control of Satan the god of this world.  Jesus Christ came to defeat the works of the devil. By Jesus life, death, and resurrection, Satan was defeated and Jesus took from him the keys of death and hell. When we believe in Jesus, we are transferred from the tyrannical kingdom of Satan to the victorious liberty of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  Jesus bought us from the devil with his own blood. 

When's the last time you heard the gospel described in this way? Pretty interesting, but once again it shouldn't be taken in isolation. Yes, fundamentally when we believe in Jesus we become part of the kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of Satan. This is a great gift, but shouldn't be overemphasized over the other realities. (Similar to this perspective is the "moral government" view, that Christ was slaughtered as a display of God's righteousness and to show just how evil sin really is, though it's fairly uncommon these days as well.)

The Messianic Gospel 

The messianic gospel presentation is common in messianic Christianity, Pentecostalism and charismatic churches. This is an increasingly common perspective on describing the gospel that is very appealing for many reasons. This is describing the gospel from the perspective of the Old Testament system of sacrifices. For every sin committed by the people of the ancient nation of Israel, there had to be atonement made through the blood of animals. Animals were sacrificed as a stand in for the coming one who would finally be the perfect sacrifice. This is described powerfully in the book of Hebrews. We see the Old Testament sacrificial system contrasted with the coming of Jesus Christ, who would be the perfect sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. 

This is a great way to describe the gospel to a Jewish person or a mature Christian, but it will be a difficult for a modern/post-modern unbeliever to receive the gospel this way. For someone outside the context of ancient Jewish culture, which is, pretty much everyone, it's going to be a rather alien way of describing the gospel. There is also the danger of becoming more and more focused on Jewish cultural practices, Jewish feast days, and even Jewish mysticism, and eventually these OT cultural practices begin to take on a greater importance than the New Testament gospel to the gentiles. 

Oppression/Freedom Gospel

This description of the gospel is becoming more prominent in mainline protestant churches, in the context of social justice and systemic injustice in society. It goes something like this: We are all oppressed under unjust cultural systems, governments, and economic systems that leave us enslaved and in bondage. Only Jesus Christ can set us free from these systems of bondage, and make us free, and help us to work in society to topple these unjust systems. Jesus Christ came to set you free from slavery and oppression. 

This is certainly an important angle of the gospel, that in the world we often do find ourselves enslaved and in bondage. But more often than not, particularly in the west, we aren't as much enslaved by systems as we are enslaved by addictions.  The danger with this approach is that we can lose the emphasis on sin as a personal issue individual to each of us, and soon it becomes more about social justice and political activism, and less and less about individual salvation in Christ. 

The Social Gospel 

This is a perspective of the gospel common in Methodist, and The Salvation Army, to name a few. This views the gospel from the perspective of helping others, it goes something like this: Jesus Christ lived a beautiful and sacrificial life of helping others, healing people, feeding people, clothing people, affecting social change, and transforming the political world.  So believe in Jesus so you can live out his mandate of feeding the poor, clothing the naked, befriending the lonely, visiting the prisoners, and so on and so forth. 

This is of course an aspect of what it means to be a Christ follower. If we love Jesus, we ought to live as Jesus lived, Matthew 25,31-46 all those wonderful mandates to help people. But this is more our response to the gospel, than the gospel itself, though it's important to talk about, following Jesus is more than helping people, it's believing in Christ Jesus and all He did for us. 

There are still more perspectives, like the Catholic view, that one must receive the eucharist and the wine, and by doing so they are Christians. There is the hellfire and brimstone gospel, Repent or burn in hell, the sort of "turn or burn gospel." There's the angle of Christ as the second Adam. There's Christ as fulfillment of the Old Testament law.  There is the gospel of slavery/freedom. I could keep going. The cross is so rich with blessings and gifts, it's beyond fathoming.

So which of these is right? Well, I think each of this are valid angles of the same gospel, one might be from the side, another from the other side, one from the front, one looking down from above, one looking up from below it, and so on and so forth. 

In conclusion, as we consider these various perspectives on the gospel, how can we make sure we're speaking the full gospel to the world? I don't want to just carry some of it, or one angle, instead I want to carry it all, every word!

Friday, January 14, 2022

Watersheds: What radical shifts define your life?

There have been several points in my life where a radical shift took place. The first was being born. That's a radical shift, from not-existing to existing. 

Others took place. Going from teens to twenties. 18 to 27 was the most destructive period of my life. Total disaster. Yet the mental hospitals, and jail stints served a useful purpose, crushing my ego to the point of being willing to hear what I did not want to hear. 

And then after years of addiction, coming to Christ, and becoming free was huge. Going from enslaved junky to set free saint is a massive shift. That was like going from living darkness to being a light, truly an unthinkably huge shift.

But recently, there was a similarly severe shift. For 7 years I had been serving in ministry as chiefly a yeoman-type worker. I was frontlines. I was rarely a leader aside from leading a Bible study, or leading a small group.  And that changed in 2019 when I was ordained as a minister. That was the most radical shift in recent memory, going from being a sort of middle intern, to a church leader. It was such a massive shift in lifestyle and perspective.  I never knew leadership was so difficult. But it certainly is. 

What radical shifts define your life? That's the question I want to pose to you today.  God has those shifts set for you in your life. They are coming. Perhaps you are in one now, and you don't even realize it?

Every single human being ever born goes through them. In fact Jesus himself went through them as well, going from new born baby to toddler, and youth to teen, and teen to young adult, and so on.  We all endure various shifts in our growth process. 

Where are you at in the endless watersheds of life? There are big ones and small ones.  A small one might be learning a new sport. A big one would be something like getting married, or having a baby, or taking on a job with new responsibilities.

However, sometimes we can get stuck in life. We can get stuck in the growth process. I was effectively stuck for about 9 years in a state of ego and repeating loops of refusing to learn things I needed to learn. So I found myself trapped in a repeating disaster, that was addiction. You get stuck, and end up a beggar on the side of the road in your own story. Very tragic, but it happens to more people than you think. It doesn't have to be addiction either, many more I'm sure simply get stuck in wrong beliefs, or broken philosophies, or selfish attitudes, or pleasure-seeking roads, or end up in the wrong careers, with the wrong people, and in the wrong places, and God sovereignly calls them out, but they are intent on going their own way and refuse to walk down the route God has for them. Can anyone relate?  Some even die that way, but I digress.

We're going to assume we're on the right path, at the center of God's will for our lives, which is indeed a beautiful place to be. Are you at the center of God's will for your life, are you traveling the narrow road? If so, then we consider watersheds.

God has watersheds for your life.  Massive shifts. Total changes.  The hardest yet for me was shifting from seminarian to minister.  I must admit I selfishly thought, watching many ministers and officers that such positions were easy and I wondered why they didn't do more and work harder. Then I felt the pressure of it first hand. I felt the difficulties building up.  I felt the intense spiritual warfare that takes place as you find yourself a higher priority target attacked by demons and demonic powers constantly.  It's absolutely insane.  

The enemy seeks to exhaust the saints. So controversy after controversy would hit. One after another, some bigger, some smaller. All intended to weaken me one by one.  It's similar to Elijah, he won a great victory against the false prophets of Baal. There were so many encounters before that and years staying with a widow, trusting God for food. But after his victory at mount Horeb, he was exhausted and then he received word that Jezebel wanted him dead. A small thing, all things considered right? He had been harassed and hunted for years. But it was spiritual. And it was the straw that broke the camels back.

I've faced similar things. There is a great victory. But then some subtle wind hits, some negative news, some sickness, some minor inconvenience and it crushes you. And you lose it for a while. You go a little crazy, you might say. 

That is the severe battle I face as a leader is the battle of my "controversy tank."  It's like I have a tank full of ability and resolve and zeal and courage built up to deal with various big and small controversies, an employee becomes difficult, many miss a church service, someone must be disciplined biblically, an event with many preparations, a one on one meeting with a superior, submission of statistics, gathering of data, family relations strained, disagreements with friends, and eventually the tank is drained. And the enemy knows just how to drain my tank.  And when the tank is empty, he hits again, sometimes hard, sometimes soft, and I must collapse, and cry out to God, and God helps me, my tank is expanded in the effort, and I grow. 

This is very difficult.  

Four simple words, but how much they mean. 

So message to you here for the day is simple, are you ready for the next radical shift God has for you?  You may find it very difficult as well. But that's OK.  Endure the difficulties.  Keep going when you are past your reservoir, then cry out to God in bitter tears, sleep, have a bit to eat, and keep going.  You will find new strength. But don't give up. Don't quit. You may find yourself a beggar on the road, in your own journey. Keep going. Persevere. Just as Christ did.  Imagine if Christ had walked away in the garden the night before his crucifixion and fled into the night to some distant region? That would not be well for our eternal hope. However, if you find yourself running from God, perhaps you can also turn around, in the belly of the whale, like Jonah, and become the hero you were always meant to be.  

Sunday, January 2, 2022

4 Key Points for Christian Growth in 2022

“Elizabeth Elliot tells of two adventurers who stopped by to see her, all loaded with equipment for the rain forest east of the Andes. They sought no advice, just a few phrases to converse with the Indians. She writes: "Sometimes we come to God as the two adventurers came to me -- confident and, we think, well-informed and well equipped. But has it occurred to us that with all our accumulation of stuff, something is missing?

She suggests that we often ask God for too little. We know what we need--a yes or no answer, please, to a simple question. Or perhaps a road sign. Something quick and easy to point the way. What we really ought to have is the Guide himself. Maps, road signs, a few useful phrases are things, but infinitely better is someone who has been there before and knows the way.”

Elizabeth Elliot tells, A Slow and Certain Light.

Today we’re talking about the topic of Christian growth. What does it look like? How do we go about practically growing? Growth is all about becoming all we’re called to be in Christ. God has changed us into new people. He’s declared us holy in Christ, yet there is also this process of sanctification we go through, where slowly over our lives we become more and more like the character of Christ. And we learn to live like Christ did on the Earth, as we prepare for his return.

The first scripture I’d like to point you to today is 2nd Peter 1:2-4 ESV which says,

“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

When we talk about growth we quick to want to focus on ourselves, aren’t we? We think alright, I gotta make sure I have all my gear, like the two adventurers headed into the rainforest. Do I have my self help book, my to do list, my fad-diet, my determination, my self will, my abilities. And so on and so forth. We look to ourselves to grow.

But that is not what it means for a Christian to grow. A Christian instead of looking to self, or self-taught ideas, or dragging ourselves ahead by our own bootstraps, instead we look to Christ. We learn about Christ. We turn the focus off of ourselves and onto Christ, and helping others.

We seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. And as a result, all of our needs are cared for by Him.

But what we do, as our footwork, is follow the Leader. We allow the Holy Spirit to lead us through the wilderness. We allow Jesus to lead us through the wilderness. We seek answers in prayer. We go to the guide. How do we do that? By praying. By reading our Bibles daily. By doing morning devotionals. By attending Bible study, and church services. There we encounter the Lord, and are filled, and guided in the right direction through our journey in the wilderness.

So that’s my first point for you today, follow Jesus as you live out Christian growth. Let Christ be the leader of your growth process. He brings us from one issue to another, as he shapes us and molds us into His likeness.

As Christians we often start small, just very basic changes in our lives, but over time those changes become great, and our journey becomes great.

Job 8:7 ESV says, “And though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great.”

Then again, also, as a Christian, we can start well, but sometimes starting well is the easy part, and the hard part is continuing well. We see many who start well, but they never finish. They end up drifting away. Perhaps they didn’t count the cost of being a disciple? It will cost us everything.

Galatian 5:7 says, “You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth?”

The Galatians had started off so well, but they quickly became led astray by false teachers. Let’s make sure we start well, but also continue well. And let’s make sure know that though our beginning may be small, often our latter days will be very great.

So let’s take a look at 4 key points about Christian growth. What does Christian growth look like?

1. It’s messy. Yes, growth is a messy process - Often time we mess up and stumble again and again and again. And we have to keep returning to Christ, seeking His grace. But eventually we find our break through. So we have to be patient in growth. Have you ever felt stuck in your walk with Christ? Stuck on a sin? Stuck in a negative place? Then perhaps something needs to change. Something big. The Bible says it’s better to cut off our hand and throw it away, than with two hands be found in sin, and cast into the lake of fire.

Matthew 5:30 “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Failure does happen, persistence is required. Keep going. Keep praying. Keep seeking God. Keep repenting. Turn away from sin, and toward Christ. He will help us.

2. It’s stressful, involves pressure, taking risk - Change can be very stressful. And it involves pressure. We often wonder, why am I going through this fiery trial right now? And the answer is Christian growth.

It says in the word, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” -Romans 5:2-6 ESV

3. It’s Putting the Flesh to Death – Colossians 3:5 ESV “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

We must put the flesh to death by the Spirit’s power, in christ. And we have the promise that says the power of the blood of Christ will do this in us.

It says in Hebrews 9:14 ESV “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

We know that our flesh was crucified with Christ, but sometimes our flesh wants to pop back up and have it’s way right. I want pleasure. I want this. I want that. Selfishness pops up, that’s why I have to repeat to myself the word from

Galatians 2:20 ESV I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

This is all a process. It’s not just one and done. We often have to keep putting the flesh to death and living for the Spirit. It starts over for me everyday. Every 24 hours, new day, live by the Spirit, not the flesh.

4. It’s Living by Faith not by sight – We see mountains often in front of us, and our call is to live by faith not by sight. We have prayer requests and hopes, but we see the same old thing day by day, our job is to live by faith not by sight. Living by faith is believing and understanding and knowing the reality of God’s sovereignty his total control and ability to affect change, and also believing that He will. That is faith. And we live by faith, not by sight. Because we’ve seen the evidence time and again, in our lives, that God moves mountains, they disappear into thin air, our minds can’t comprehend it, our cynical pessimistic attitudes burst into flames and can’t believe what they’re seeing when God makes the way, and we walk on dry ground where there was once a flood. And it’s incredible. And it happens. Our job is to keep believing.

In conclusion today, my prayer for you today is this:

2 Peter 3:18 ESV But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.