Fasting 

Isaiah 58:6
Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?”

In one of His longest recorded sermons, Jesus spoke of 3 spiritual exercises that every believer should be practicing. He spoke of giving, praying and fasting. Fasting is the practice of giving up food for a period of time in order to learn to deny ourselves and to devote more attention to the things of God. Sadly, instead of viewing fasting as a way to draw near to God the people in Isaiah’s day were treating it as a religious responsibility. It was almost as though it was part of their checklist. They felt that fasting itself made them spiritual and they saw little need for their lives to be affected by their professed relationship with God. Isaiah declares that a real fast will will give evidence of a transformed life.

William Booth was the man behind the Salvation Army. About one hundred years ago he was asked what he thought were the greatest dangers the church was facing in the years ahead. His response is quite intriguing. He said:

“The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.”

In other words he spoke of a form of Christianity that has little impact upon the way a person lives their life. He foresaw churches filled with people who raise their hands in worship, drop checks in the offering box and perhaps even sign up for ministry opportunities yet they fail to allow the Spirit of God and the Word of God to transform their lives.

Instead of emphasizing religious duties we should be seeking to become like Jesus in every possible way. A real commitment to Christ will show itself in a life that is changed.

Jim

 

Following The Crowd 

Exodus 23:2
“You shall not follow a crowd to do evil…”

The Law of God was given as a standard to show the people their need for a Savior, and as a pattern to ensure that the people lived righteous lives. Here we find a principle that would protect Israel from becoming like the surrounding pagan nations. God is declaring that popular opinion is not what determines right from wrong. Almost every child has heard his parents say, “Would you jump off a cliff if your friends were doing it?” We attempt to instill within our children the principle that just because the crowd is behaving a certain way, it does not make it right. Sociologist refer to “mob mentality.” They say it is possible for individuals to lose the ability to think for themselves, and begin to follow whatever the crowd is doing. Living in a democratic state can make this even more complicated. God declares to Israel that popular vote is not the standard of righteousness. If all the people vote to erect a golden calf to represent God, that does not make God a gold cow. His righteous standard will never be changed simply by getting a crowd to reject it.

We live in a time, perhaps like no other, where the Word of God is challenged. The very foundational principles of righteousness are being questioned, ridiculed, and legislated away. We need to keep in mind, righteousness is not a floating standard that can be voted upon. No matter what society tells us, God has a standard of right and wrong, and we must not follow a crowd to do evil.

Pastor Jim

Your Land 

Ezekiel 48:29
“‘This is the land which you shall divide by lot as an inheritance among the tribes of Israel, and these are their portions,’ says the Lord God.”

As the prophecies of Ezekiel come to a close, he describes the allotments of land that will be given to each of the tribes of Israel. It is striking to me that seven times in the chapter theses districts are called “holy.” The inheritance the Lord gives to His people is always holy, and the life we live should be lived in holiness.

Holiness is often misunderstood. For many, it is reduced to outward actions. We define it as the clothes we wear, the music we don’t listen to, or the things we no longer practice. While it is true, holiness will affect the way we dress and behave, holiness is much more than that. Perhaps a better definition would be, a life that reflects the life of Christ. That is what God has called each of us to, as we grow in the Lord we become more like Jesus. We become more loving, gracious, merciful, kind, and willing to reach out to and share with others. Jesus lived a righteous life without sin, yet He did not live a life of isolation. Instead He sought to bring life to others.

Whatever “lot” has been assigned to you. Whether you are a student or a working mom, married or a single believer, you have been given a holy district, where you have been called to let the light of Christ shine into the life of others. Let your light shine today. Who knows how God may use you in the life of another.

Pastor Jim

 

Getting Dressed 

Ezekiel 42:14
“When the priests enter them, they shall not go out of the holy chamber into the outer court; but there they shall leave their garments in which they minister, for they are holy. They shall put on other garments; then they may approach that which is for the people.”

For the priest to be involved in ministery, there must be a change of apparel. What was appropriate for some things, was not appropriate for others. This imagery is continued throughout Scripture.

Jesus told a parable where a man had a lavish feast and all who attended were given garments specifically designed for the feast. One man was found in the banquet room who was not appropriately dressed and he was removed (Matthew 22:11-13). The story illustrates that none of us will access heaven through our own accomplishments, but must be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Zechariah painted the same picture when he described Joshua the high priest standing before the Lord in filthy garments only to have the Angel of the Lord remove those garments and clothe him in new ones Zachariah 3:3-4).

Paul also spoke of proper garments. When he wrote to the Ephesian church, which was made up of those who had received Christ and been clothed in His righteousness, he stated that certain behaviors needed to be set aside like a worn out garment if we are going to live a life pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 4:22-24). This is illustrated in the Lazarus miracle. As soon as Lazarus came back to life and out of the tomb, Jesus commanded that they take off his burial clothes (John 11:44). The clothes appropriate for a dead man are not appropriate for the living. As believers, many of our behaviors need to be laid down because they no longer fit.

Finally, after His resurrection, Jesus told the twelve to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them and they were clothed with the power of God (Acts 1:4). This power was designed to transform them and to equip them for ministry. This power is illustrated in Peter who had denied Christ in the courtyard, only to boldly stand for Him in the temple courts. Certainly all of us need a fresh filling of the Spirit of God as we walk out our doors this morning.

Pastor Jim

 

A Safe Place 

Revelation 14:1
“Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty- four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.”

The tribulation years will be the most difficult time period the earth has ever known. Any hardship we have ever experienced, will pale by comparison, to say the least of the trials during those few years. It is prudent that we each do everything we can to avoid being left here when these events begin to transpire. The way out is to trust in, and surrender to, Christ as Lord and Savior. If you have not yet made the decision to receive Christ, stop reading and pray. Invite Him to forgive your sins and be your Lord.

That being said, Chapter 14 gives a glimpse into the life of 144,000 believers, living and serving God through these dark times. It is particularly striking to me, that these individuals have the seal of God on their lives which, among other things, is certainly a seal of protection. With all the opposition to Christ and His followers, these believers remain untouchable as long as they “follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” (Rrevelation 14:4) Their lives serve as a great example that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.

I am reminded of David as he walked into the valley to face Goliath. Unarmed and untrained for battle, there was no safer place for Him to be than face to face with the giant. I think also of Gideon, with only 300 men at his side, and facing an army too large to number, he was both protected and victorious in battle. Conversely, I also think of Jonah. He was a man who knew the danger an Israelite would be in if he walked into the city of Nineveh. Unwilling to yield to the way of the Lord, he found himself in even graver danger.

While we are not to live foolishly, seeking adventure for adventure sake, we must not let the fear of the unknown or the threat of the “what if” keep us out of the center of God’s will for our lives. Just as these men were marked by God, and protected until it was time to call them home, so is the child of God who is walking in the will of God. We need never fear as long as we are following the Lamb wherever He goes.

Pastor Jim

 

Stand In The Gap

Ezekiel 22:30“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.”

Israel, in Ezekiel’s day, was a mess. The people had long ago left the Word of God and chose to follow the ways of the world around them. This led them into gross immorality, putting them at odds with God. As a result, the Babylonians were fast approaching the city and the people would be destroyed. Prophet after prophet had filled the airwaves with warnings of coming judgment and the way of escape. Sadly however, instead of turning to the Lord, the people remained entrenched in their immoral ways, hoping against reality, that life would continue unchanged, regardless of their backslidden state. All the while, God was looking for men and women who would respond to him in repentance and obedience, but none were found. In many ways times have not changed, God is still looking for those who will build a wall and stand in the gap.

Building a wall might illustrate taking a personal stand against the sinful practices so common among us. Regretfully, the same sins that are rampant in the world, are also running amuck in the church. It is time we took a personal stand to be men and women who are committed to the Lord. It is time for men to be the husbands, fathers and citizens God has called us to be. Standing in the gap, is a picture of a person who will stand between men and God, seeking to make a difference. We stand in the gap in two ways. First, in prayer. Instead of only complaining about the way things are and wishing for days gone by, we should be praying for those around us. If you are struck by a particular person’s behavior, put them on your prayer list. Pray they would come to Christ and be transformed. Second, to stand in the gap is to share the message of the Gospel. More than anything else, the World needs to hear the saving message of the Gospel. It is the Word of God, through the Spirit of God, that will transform the lives of those who believe.

Let’s commit to be those who will stand the gap.

Pastor Jim

 

A Hard Heart 

Hebrews 3:12-13
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

Life is dangerous and filled with pitfalls. We are constantly warned to be on the lookout for danger. We see signs warning us that the road is slippery, the coffee is hot, there is a low beam, animals may cross the highway; riptide, sharks, jellyfish and high surf face us in the ocean. Paul reminds us of a hazard that is far more dangerous because it has taken many more away than any riptide ever has. He warns us against having a hardened heart. Biblically speaking, a hard heart could be defined as being unwilling to do what God asks. This was the primary issue with the pharaoh in Moses’ day. He clearly heard the word and will of God, yet he was unwilling to submit to it and fought against God. This proved costly to him, as it always will to us. Our text reveals three things we must avoid because they will result in a hardened heart.

First, we are warned against unbelief. Unbelief is simply not trusting the Word of God, whether it is warning, instructing, or providing us with promises. Israel in the wilderness is cited as an example of unbelief. God promised them victory as they entered the land, yet they cowered in fear and refused to enter. Looking at their circumstances, instead of looking to the Lord, resulted in unbelief that led to a hardened heart. We can avoid our hearts hardening by taking God at His word and doing what He asks.

Second, we are warned against departing from the living God. Departing means to move away. The closer you are to Jesus the easier it is to trust Him. Mark records the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding feast, where the host had run out of refreshments for the guests. When word came to Jesus, he sent his disciples to fill large contains with water from the local well. Upon arriving back at the party, the water was served but had miraculously been turned into wine. The guests were unaware of what had been accomplished, but those closest to Jesus experienced the miracle. Close proximity to Jesus is always beneficial to walking with Him. James exhorts us to draw near to God and He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

Finally, we are warned against our hearts becoming hardened by sin. Sin is doing what God has forbidden. We often sin because, from our limited perspective, we cannot see why something is bad. This is very common in relationships. We see many Christians get involved with someone who is not pursuing the Lord, but is a very nice person. They cannot understand why that is forbidden. Others cross the line physically, because they believe they are in love and convince themselves that sexual activity is acceptable. In every case, sin leads to a hardened heart and must be avoided. Be very careful that you do not cross verses out of your Bible, in order to justify your behaviors.

Let us not harden our heart, but keep it soft to hear all the Lord has to say to us.

Pastor Jim