415:  The Curse of God’s Abandonment

415: The Curse of God’s Abandonment

There’s a time when the Lord gives us what we want: freedom, autonomy, independence, and to have no authority over our lives but ourselves.  That’s right.  God gives us over to our selfish, carnal attitudes and allows us to experience the consequences of our sins.  It’s like He says, “Ok, you want to go your own way?  Have at it.  I’ll be here when you come to your senses.”  It’s the story of the prodigal son played out in our lives in real time.

This is called the curse of God’s abandonment.  It’s when He removes His protecting grace from our lives and our nation and let’s us see how we like life without Him.  And the results are catastrophic.

Samson, after having his hair cut by Delilah, woke up to confront his enemies still believing he had the same strength as before because his God was with him.  But that was not the case.  He said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!”  But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him (Judges 16:20).  Samson was experiencing the abandonment of God.


God Gave Them Up

In Romans 1 we see three examples of this very act of God’s abandonment:

Therefore God also gave them up – Romans 1:24.
For this reason God gave them up – Romans 1:26.
God gave them over – Romans 1:28.

But who are the “them” in these verses?  The lost?  The unregenerate?  Those nations that reject truth and justice?  Yes.  But if you will study these verses closely you will find the object of God’s curse of abandonment is also the church.  It includes His wayward believers.  It includes you and me.

Does this seem strange to you?  Maybe hard to believe?  Then I suggest you keep listening and find out the truth for yourself.  And remember, “judgment begins at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17).  Are you ready?

The following is a study on the Curse of the Abandonment of God.

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

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The Promises from Proverbs Four, Part One

The Promises from Proverbs Four, Part One

In Proverbs 4 the Lord reveals to us some promises that come with wisdom.  They are simple, direct, pointed promises, and each has a condition that must be met.  Fulfill the condition, receive the promise.  Refuse the condition, and you walk away empty handed and promise free.  It’s that simple.

The Proverb begins with the father once again giving sage advice to his young children. Watch how this unfolds.

Proverbs 4:1-2 – Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; (why) for I give you good doctrine: (therefore) do not forsake my law.

The father then reminds his children about his own upbringing and the words his father told him that he is now passing on to his own children.  He says:

Proverbs 4:3-5 – When I was my father’s son, tender and the only one in the sight of my mother, he also taught me, and said to me:  “Let your heart retain my words; keep my commands, and live.  Get wisdom!  Get understanding!  Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.”


Get Wisdom!  Get Understanding!

The point the father is trying to impress on his beloved children is the importance of getting wisdom and understanding.  In fact, you can almost feel the urgency in the father’s words: “Get wisdom!  Get understanding!” (Prov. 4:5)  Later, he adds, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom.  And in all your getting, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7).

Wisdom (ḥoḵmāh) is defined as “skill, experience and shrewdness; with the beginning of wisdom and the supreme wisdom being to properly fear and reverence God.”1  Understanding (biynāh) means “comprehension and discernment, which is accompanied by righteous actions and it carries a strong moral and religious connotation.”2  So when the father says “in all your getting, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7), he is imploring his children to add righteous actions to their reverence and fear of God.  It’s not a theological point to be debated.  It’s not a mere mental exercise.  It’s living in real time a life that corresponds to a reverence of God.  Like Jesus later said, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).  Great question.  How would you answer Him?


The First Promise

Then comes the most exciting part of these few verses.  Wisdom is now personified as a woman and each of these promises about wisdom (her) is connected with a condition that must first be met.  There are three do’s and one don’t.  Let’s look at the don’t first.

Proverbs 4:6a – (condition) Do not forsake her (wisdom), and (promise) she will preserve you.

To forsake (ʿāzaḇ) someone is to “leave, neglect, or abandon” them, usually for someone or something else.3  And the idea associated with the word translated preserve (šāmar) means “to keep watch, to guard, to watch over carefully like a mother over her young child.”4

So the first promise from wisdom is that if we do not abandon wisdom or neglect the wisdom found in God’s Word, then wisdom will guard our life and watch carefully over us like a loving mother to her cherished young child.  Wisdom will become our protector, our safety, and our security in troubling times of trials and temptations and persecution.  She will preserve our life during the attacks of the enemy and reveal to us what is true and trustworthy.  And in doing so, we will be strengthened against the schemes of our enemy who speaks to us lies disguised as truth (John 8:44).

Wisdom will also protect us from falling prey to our own ideas about things.  She will help us bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) so we won’t confuse our selfish, carnal thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others and vainly think they come from the Lord.  If we hold on to wisdom and do not abandon her to our own self-centered sense of right and wrong, then she will guard us against the temptation of trying to create God in our own image by believing He thinks and feels like we do.

And nothing could be further from the truth.  Why?  Because He doesn’t.  God doesn’t live in our box.

As the Lord says in Isaiah:

Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

I think that should settle it, don’t you?

There are three more promises granted to those who embrace the conditions associated with wisdom.  We’ve only looked at the first one, the don’t.

Tomorrow we’ll continue with the three do’s.

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Endnotes

  1.  Baker, W., & Carpenter, E. E. (2003). The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament (p. 337). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
  2.  Ibid., 130.
  3.  Ibid., 819.
  4.  Ibid., 1171.

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398:  When Our Blessings Become Curses

398: When Our Blessings Become Curses

One of the greatest blessings the church has experienced has become its greatest curse.  And that is wealth.  Opulence.  The ability to run ahead of God rather than waiting on Him to provide what His church needs and when it needs it.  Then there’s the great blessing that comes with persecution that a wealthy church always views as a curse.  How did it become so upside down?

The early church understood the blessings that come with persecution.  Because they remembered the promise of Jesus when He preached His sermon on the mount where He said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).

And later, Paul would tell his son Timothy that “Yes, and all who (condition) desire to live godly in Christ Jesus (result) will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).  Do you see the condition and the result?  If you desire to live godly in Christ Jesus, which most Christians would say they do, then you will suffer persecution because of your godly life in Christ.  It’s a given.  A promise.

And the opposite of this promise is also true.  If you are not suffering persecution, then it stands to reason you do not desire to live godly in Christ Jesus.  Sobering, isn’t it?  This is not how the early church lived.  They embraced every opportunity to live godly in Christ, regardless of how they suffered.  Do you want to know more about people who love Jesus that way?  Good.  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on Acts 4:1-35.

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

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Bring Mark for Ministry

Bring Mark for Ministry

Today, I’ve been thinking about getting older.

Sometimes, when we get older, we think it’s our time to slow down.  “After all,” we reason, “I’ve done my part.  I’ve worked hard and paid my bills and raised my kids.  I’ve done more than my fair share.  Now it’s time for someone else to carry the torch and lead.  I’m just going to kick back, relax, retire, and die.”

But that’s not the example we see from Scripture.

In AD 60, Paul was imprisoned in Rome.  He was treated well and allowed to stay in his own house at his own expense, for two full years “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:31).  It was during this time he wrote his prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.

Paul was in his mid-sixties.  About retirement age.

Paul was imprisoned a second and final time during the summer of AD 66.  The cause of his arrest may be found in a statement Paul made in his final letter to Timothy: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm.  May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words” (2 Tim. 4:14-15).

This time, Paul was not allowed to remain under house arrest, but was thrown among the most vile of prisoners in the Mamertine prison or another such dark and horrid place.  This prison was more like a dungeon, or a pit that could only be reached by a ladder or rope let through a hole in the floor above.  There was little ventilation and sanitation was non-existent.  If the idea was to reduce men to mere animals before they faced trial and execution, then the Romans did their job quite well.

It was in this desperate condition, accompanied only by Luke (2 Tim. 4:11), that Paul penned his last letter to Timothy.  Paul was now in his late sixties, well past retirement age.


Paul’s Final Words

Paul begins what would be his farewell address to his beloved son in the faith, Timothy.  In these final words, Paul urges Timothy to be bold in the face of opposition, knowing his own time was short.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 – I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word!  Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (why) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Paul then turns to more personal matters.  He reflects on his present situation, his past ministry, and the future glory he will share with Christ.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 – For I am (present) already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have (past) fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is (future) laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

And then amazingly, in the midst of his deplorable conditions, Paul encourages Timothy to come to him, to the Mamertine prison, to help him continue in ministry.

2 Timothy 4:9 – Be diligent to come to me quickly.

Why would Paul ask that of Timothy?  What possible ministry could Paul be undertaking?  The Scriptures don’t say. But we can see that Paul clearly understands his time is not over and there’s still more work to be done.  He knows there’s no retirement plan in the Kingdom of God.  Paul’s not ready, like many of us, to kick back, relax, retire and spend the rest of his days cruising the Caribbean or watching reruns of the Andy Griffith Show.  Even in the midst of unspeakable filth, in the throes of pain and suffering, Paul realized there was still ministry to perform for his Lord.

2 Timothy 4:10 – For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica— Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia.

The sad news is that Demas has forsaken Paul and abandoned him and the faith.  In doing so, Demas will forever be remembered as one who did not finish well and inevitably suffered the certain fate that awaits all who reject the One who came to save them.  The good news is that Paul, even in prison, seems to be directing missionary endeavors to support and encourage the churches in Asia minor.  Paul is saying that “Creschen has departed (or, has been sent or dispatched) to Galatia and Titus (has been sent or dispatched) to Dalmatia” (2 Tim. 4:10).  Paul later says he sent, or dispatched, Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:12).

Think about it. In the middle of Paul’s prison cell he is still ministering to others.  Paul’s physical circumstances may have changed for the worse, but not his calling nor his faithfulness to that calling.  Paul, in prison and approaching seventy, facing trial and death, in unspeakable filth, continues ministering to others.  He remains faithful even when he has every reason not to.


Bring Mark

We then have the verse that communicates more to me about the heart of Paul than any other in this passage.  Here Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes.  That’s the same Mark, by the way, that deserted Paul early in their first missionary journey (Acts 13:13).  And it was the same Mark that caused Paul and Barnabas to exchange such sharp words with each other that they split as a team and headed in different directions (Acts 15:36-39).

2 Timothy 4:11 – Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful (profitable, to furnish what is needed), to me for ministry (serving others, showing benevolence).

Note, Paul did not say Mark would be useful to him to meet his own personal needs, which must have been great.  Nor did he say Mark would be useful to take care of Paul, or lessen his burdens, or comfort him while he suffered and languished in the Mamertine prison.  No, Paul said Mark would be useful, or would furnish what was needed or lacking, in the lives of those Paul himself was ministering to— his fellow cell mates and possibly a guard or two.  It was always for Paul, even in this late hour, about his love for Christ manifested by his ministry to others.

He continues:

2 Timothy 4:13 – Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come— and the books, especially the parchments.

The cloak I understand.  After all, it was probably quite cold in the prison, especially for a man of Paul’s age.  But why the parchments?  What did Paul need with them?  They were for teaching, for his trial preparation, for the opportunity he saw to present Christ to those who would render judgment against him and decide his fate.  He remembered what Jesus said about him, spoken to Ananias so many years ago, “he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  And even in the midst of prison, at his final curtain call, Paul saw one more opportunity to fulfill his calling and faithfully serve his Lord.

At the age when most of us are tired and want to quit, satisfied and content with the memories of yesteryear, Paul urges forward.  As long as there’s breath in his lungs, he will continue to proclaim the glories of Christ to anyone, anywhere, in any situation, no matter the costs.  For Paul, his best days are from this day forward, no matter how dire this day seems.  Even if this day begins chained to a wall, standing in human excrement, facing certain death, in the bowels of a Roman prison.

Convicting, isn’t it?  Especially when you realize how we view aging and retirement today.

It’s my prayer that I will be more like Paul as the day of my departure approaches (2 Tim. 4:6).  And I also pray I will not mimic most Christians I’ve seen in church, who have worked tirelessly for their retirement and, when it comes, when they now have all the time in the world to serve the Lord they claim to love, instead choose to spend that precious time for themselves, and not for Him or for others.

That’s not the New Testament model.  Pray it doesn’t become the norm for each of us.

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The Focus of Our Faith

The Focus of Our Faith

The context of Psalm 3 deals with David’s great betrayal at the hands of his own son, Absalom, whom he dearly loved (2 Sam. 18:33).  Absalom had driven his father from the holy city, Jerusalem, and was seeking to usurp his kingdom and take his life.  David’s guilt as a failed father towards his rebellious son must have been unbearable.  Adding to that the guilt of his own sin with Bathsheba and the murder of his close friend, and her husband, Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam. 11:15), may have caused David to feel Absalom’s actions were justified, a fitting penalty for the sins of David’s past.

The future looked bleak.  There was division within his own family.  To regain his kingdom he would have to wage war against his own son, forcing him to repay evil for evil to the one he loved.  God was grieved and David was unsure as to what to do.


Our Focus

There is much for us to learn about God and our own problems in this psalm.  Note, for example, what happens when we, like David, focus on our problems and what others say about our situation:

Psalm 3:1-2 – LORD, how they have increased who trouble me!  Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.”

But now, the focus has shifted from what is before us to our God and all He has promised.  You can almost feel David’s faith begin to grow:

Psalm 3:3-4 – But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head.  I cried to the LORD with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.

As Corrie ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

David realizes God has not abandoned him.  He has cried out to his Lord, our Lord, and his voice had been heard.  God was still on His throne and He still loved his son, David, no matter how desperate the circumstances.  The same truth applies to each of us when we get our focus off our problems— the immediate, the overwhelming, and focus instead on what lasts— the Eternal, the Lord, the Sovereign One.

And the result of that change in focus?  No more fear.  Rest and peace in the face of turmoil.  Confidence in Him and Him alone.  “God’s got this. I’ve nothing to fear.”

Psalm 3:5-6 – I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me.  I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

After all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).  Great question.  Answer, no one.  Not even Absalom.

This thought brings great courage to David.  God is not finished with him yet.  Today and tomorrow are just setbacks.  But God’s plan endures to all generations.

Finally, that confidence is expressed in action.  David, and each of us, find our prayers going from “Help me, please, for I am dying” to “Arise, O Lord” and do what You promised to do for your children.

Psalm 3:7-8 – Arise, O LORD; Save me, O my God!  For You have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly.  Salvation belongs to the LORD.  Your blessing is upon Your people

Did you get that? “Your (God) blessing is upon Your (God) people.”


The End from the Beginning

One final thought, did you notice all of God’s actions are recorded in the past tense (have struck, have broken)?  That’s right.  For the child of God, we can rest in faith knowing what God has promised to do has already been done in the eyes of the Lord.  His Word never changes.  If God promises to do something for us, in faith, it’s already done.  It’s finished, established, completed, done.  Time is a construct of man, not of God.  He sees everything, past, present and future, in real time.  Scripture calls that seeing “the end from the beginning” (Isa, 46:10).  We simply have to rest, by faith, in the completed work of the Lord even though our eyes may see, for a time, something quite different.

David saw Absalom’s rebellion and his kingdom, the one promised to David by the Lord, ripped from his hands.  But not God.  None of that surprised Him.  God knew how all of that was going to turn out and His knowledge of the future was not based on changing circumstances, but on what He had promised David in the past.  What was currently happening, in God’s eyes, were merely details.

So we should also live our lives with the same focus on Him, with eyes of faith, seeing the truth of what God sees and not what our circumstances cause us to fear.  The promises our faithful God has made to each of us are true, and will come to pass, regardless of how dark and bleak our circumstances may seem today.  And living in the reality of this faith, to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), will give us the peace and assurance in Him that will help us know our Lord sustains us and gives us the confidence to proclaim, even in the midst of the battle, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (Ps. 3:6).

Psalm 3:8 – Salvation belongs to the Lord, Your blessing is upon Your people.

The “Your people” also include you and me, those chosen in Him “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).  And His blessing is upon His people.  Take a moment, stop fretting, and rest in that.

Pray for the Lord to open your eyes today to see the wonder of His grace and sovereignty in all things (Ps. 115:3) and to teach you how to live like children of the Most High God (Rom. 8:17).  Which, as incredible as it sounds, you are.

Praise be His Name!

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366:  The Downside of Revival

366: The Downside of Revival

Often we preach about the need for revival in the church and in our own lives.  We hold the virtues and blessings of revival up high, for all to see, yet fail to talk about the dark side of revival, the downside of totally surrendering to Him.

And that downside is satanic attack.

For the novice, this attack can be devastating because they are often ill-prepared to stand against it.  For the more mature believer, the attack is just another affirmation they are living as light and walking where the enemy dwells.

Do you know how to prepare for a spiritual attack?  Do you know how to stand when the day of evil comes (Eph. 6:13)?  If not, then keep listening.

The following is a study on Spiritual Warfare.

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

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