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.
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God never wastes an experience in our life, good or bad. When we sin, for example, God uses our failure as a ministry to help others struggling with the same sin. He allows us to share the times we fell flat on our face to encourage others who are doing the same. It seems that’s what Jesus was teaching Peter.
In the upper room, during the last supper, Jesus told Peter He was praying for him. But His prayer was not to remove the temptation and inevitable fall from Peter. No, His prayer was that when Peter fell and suffered the consequences of that fall, that once he repented and returned to Jesus, he was to strengthen his brothers by that experience. Consider the following:
Luke 22:31-32 – And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
Jesus didn’t tell Peter he would deliver him from the temptation, the sifting. He promised Peter that after he fell and recovered and returned to his faith, Jesus would use that experience to encourage and strengthen others who were struggling in the same way. That’s why, in John 21, we see Jesus restoring Peter by saying, “Feed My lambs” (John 21:15). Even after Peter’s epic denial of Jesus, his ministry was not finished. In fact, it was just beginning. And so it is with us.
Does this thought encourage you? It does me. If you want to learn more about your usefulness after your failure, then keep listening.
The following is a study on John 21:15-23.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
We have previously talked about the importance of understanding our responsibility regarding the if / then passages in Scripture. In these, the promise of God (then) is contingent upon some completed action on our part (if). One always precedes the other. One is always contingent upon the other. When the if is satisfied, the promised then is realized. But the opposite is also true. If there is no if, there will be no then. If no condition is met, there will be no fulfillment of the promise. It’s Contract Law, 101.
For example, when Peter preached his powerful sermon on the day of Pentecost that ushered in the birth of the church, he closed his message with an if / then promise. Let’s look at this in context. First, Peter concludes his message with a statement about Jesus and their guilt in rejecting and crucifying Him.
Acts 2:36 – “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified (now it’s personal), both Lord and Christ.”
Then, under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the people cry out for an answer. They long and seek for salvation, some deliverance from the guilt of their sin.
Acts 2:37 – Now when they heard this (the words Peter just spoke), they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Peter answers their question with an if / then promise regarding repentance and salvation. They must do something (if) to receive salvation and the forgiveness of their sins (then). If they fail to do what is required of them (if – repentance), then salvation does not follow (then). Watch how this plays out.
Acts 2:38 – Then Peter said to them, “Repent (if – the condition they must meet), and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (as an outward sign of their repentance and submission to Christ); and (then – the promise of salvation, the result of meeting the condition of repentance) you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Remember, the Holy Spirit is our proof of salvation. Ephesians 1 says we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” in Him (Eph. 1:13-14). Again, no Holy Spirit, no regeneration, no changed nature— no salvation. But you already know this.
Turn at My Rebuke
Yet even after salvation, we find the same if / then conditions and promises still apply in our lives today. This is especially true regarding the sins we commit as a believer and our refusal to repent of them and give them up in exchange for a deeper relationship with the Lord. Look at your own life. You and I have areas right now that we struggle with and refuse to submit to Him. But you also already know this. The end result of this inaction on our part is a grieving of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and a noticeable break in our fellowship with the Lord. Can you relate? Ever been there?
We even see this scenario played out for us in the first chapter of Proverbs. In this chapter, the young man (representing you and me) is warned by his father and mother not to forsake what he has been taught and to not consent when sinners entice him to sin (Prov. 1:10). The Lord then spends the next nine verses detailing the types of pressure each of us will face when we are tempted to sin. There’s peer pressure, greed, anger, violence, acceptance, excitement— it’s all there. Read it for yourself.
By the time we get to Proverbs 1:20, things change a bit in the text. Now we have wisdom, the personified wisdom of God, calling out to this young man with the message of repentance. In fact, we see wisdom calling out to anyone who will listen. Wisdom calls out in the “open squares,” in the “chief concourses” and “at the opening of the gates in the city” (Prov. 1:20-21). Wisdom is calling to everyone. To those who are lost, it’s a message of repentance unto salvation. To those, like the young man and you and me, it’s a message of repentance unto fellowship and a restoration of our intimate relationship with our Lord.
Wisdom’s message begins with a rebuke. It’s like incredulously asking, “Just how stupid are you?”
Proverbs 1:22 – “How long, you simple ones (foolish ones, naive ones, stupid ones, moronic ones), will you love simplicity (what is foolish, stupid, moronic)? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge.”
Wisdom asks each of us the same question: “How long, you foolish, moronic, stupid ones, will you love your stupidity? How long, you fools, will you be enamored in your folly?”
Just like those who heard Peter’s charge in Acts 2:36, we also ask the same question: “What must we do?” The answer is simple. But it’s an if / then answer. It requires something of us in order to receive something from the Lord.
Proverbs 1:23 – “Turn (if – the condition that must be met) at my rebuke; Surely (then – the results of meeting the condition) I will pour out my spirit (Holy Spirit) on you; (then) I will make my words known (yada) to you.”
The promise is that God would pour (to gush forth, to flow) out the Holy Spirit on those who turned (turn back, returned) and repented at the rebuke (correction, reproof, chastisement) of wisdom. And, as if it couldn’t get any better, He also promised to make His words known (yada) to those who repented and turned back to Him. The word “known” is yada in the Hebrew and means to know, or be known, in a loving, intimate, experiential way. The promise offered by the Lord is for Him to pour Himself out on us in the Person of the Holy Spirit and make His words become something we love because we have experienced them ourselves, first-hand, and have an intimate, loving relationship with Him. Does it get any better than this? Not for me.
But don’t get too excited. This wonderful promise is conditional. It’s the then side of the if / then equation. There is something that is required in order to receive the promise from God. Something each of us must do.
We must repent. We must turn at the rebuke or correction and chastisement of the Lord.
It means to go back to where we were with Him before we jumped ship to blindly go after the trinkets and toys this world offers. It means to embrace the eternal and reject the temporal, no matter how good the temporal may make us feel in the short run. It means placing ourselves back under the Lordship of Christ as the Sovereign One. We must repent of the selfishness of demanding our Christian life being about us, and not about Him. And we must vow to never view Christ as a genie in a bottle, always at our beck and call, whose sole purpose, according to us, is to make all our dreams come true.
Turn. Return. Go back. Repent.
But What If I Don’t?
I mean, what if I refuse to return to Him? What if I’m ok where I’m at and don’t want to go through the pain and hard times that come with repentance? What if I say, no?
I’ll close by letting you read what the Lord says about people who stubbornly refuse His rebuke. These are sobering words. Take them to heart. Because they are a warning from Him. Another if / then promise.
Proverbs 1:24-27 – “Because (if – the condition we have met) I have called and you refused, (if – the condition) I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because (if) you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, (then – the result of our actions) I also will laugh at your calamity; (then) I will mock when your terror comes, (to what extent) when your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.”
But it gets worse. What happens when we reject the wisdom of the Lord and inevitably begin to experience all the “terror” and “destruction” that “comes like a whirlwind” (Prov. 1:26-27)? What happens when the Lord gives us what we want and allows us to experience the consequences of our own sin (Rom.1:24-28)? What happens when we’ve had enough of God’s chastisement, throw up our hands in defeat, and begrudgingly come to Him on His terms? What happens then? How will He receive us?
Read this carefully. These are sobering words.
Proverbs 1:28-30 – “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. (why) Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke.”
These are some of the most frightening words in all of Scripture. They indicate there may come a time when our constant rejection of the Lord will dry up His grace. A time when heaven is quiet and, no matter how hard we try, we can’t find the grace from Him we took for granted for so long. The time may come, according to this if / then promise, when God allows us to experience the consequence of our sins and may give us exactly what we have asked for, what we have demanded— deliverance from Him.
Pray that day never comes.
And while you still can, turn at His rebuke and allow Him to “pour out my spirit on you” and “make my words known to you” (Prov. 1:23). Because when He does what He has promised in the verse, you will begin to experience heaven on earth.
Return to Him today.