The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Precious in His Sight

 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. – Psalm 116:15


I recently received some tragic news. A close friend’s sister was killed in a fatal car accident. A drunk driver was fleeing in a rage while police pursued him and his girlfriend. He ran a red light and broadsided my friend’s sister. She died in the hospital the same night. Tragic. Unnecessary. Shocking. This teaching is in response to this tragedy. I write in hopes that it will offer some comfort in the situation and in other similar situations.

Death always comes as a shock. Death jars us into reality and the fragile nature of life. Life really is a vapor (Psalm 39:4-5; James 4:14). Because of that we join the psalmist in praying, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). There is wisdom to be received from the LORD that can make the death of his saints precious to us.

What takes the edge off the shock and grief associated with this sudden death is that my friend and many of her family knows the LORD. Her sister who died knew the Lord. The Father of mercies and God of all comfort has what we need in such trying times (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). This sister who died is with her Shepherd Jesus. She is in His arms. She is comforted. We who are left behind mourn. But we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. Jesus holds us close as He holds her close. Jesus has big strong comforting arms. His embrace holds us together. Our arms become His arms. We bear this burden together in prayer, togetherness, and care and thus fulfill Christ’s purposes (Galatians 6:2).

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). There is great comfort and wisdom in those inspired words. They are part of God’s love letter to us. And like a love letter we read the words over and over soaking in every meaning, drawing out every precious drop of love.

“Precious” (Hebrew yachar) means valuable, bright, clear, costly, excellent, honorable, precious, prized, rare, splendid, highly valued, like a precious jewel, glorious. There is something of great value to the LORD. He looks at this precious thing as a gloriously splendid bright shining light. It is a precious perfectly cut diamond that reflects His light. It is something whose facets hold His fascination. He just can’t get His eyes off of this precious object.

What is it that is so valued to the LORD? It “is the death of His saints.” The end of a saint’s life on this earth is precious and of great value to the LORD. The way His people pass from this life to the next is very precious to the LORD. But God is not into death, He is into life. Jesus, God, is the resurrection and the life! (John 11:25). The death of His saints is of great value to the LORD because God’s people are a “special treasure’ to Him (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2). The death of His saints is precious to the LORD because His saints are His precious treasure. And the death of His saints means they are coming home to Him.

This shouldn’t be construed or interpreted as God stealing saints from us. We don’t tell a mourning child, “God took your mother.” The mother’s days may have been fulfilled. God permitted her to pass on (hopefully having been a “saint”). The length of a person’s life is in the sovereign hands of the LORD. We should be thankful for every breath he blesses us with. But we have to be careful and follow the leading of the Spirit when it comes to discussing death and its circumstances. There are no pat answers. Some questions are beyond our pay scale to answer. Sometimes we simply need to be silent and trust the LORD. When you are confronted by a problem you don’t know the answer for, fall back on what you do know. We know God is loving, good, gracious, merciful, forgiving and holy. There is none like Him. His thoughts and ways transcend our comprehension (e.g. Isaiah 55:8-11). Like Job we may question circumstances the LORD allows but we don’t understand (Job 1-37). But in the end we must humbly bow in submission to Almighty God (cf. Job 38-41).

How treasured are we saints to the LORD? The LORD treasures us so much He can’t get His mind off us. “Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (Psalm 40:5). We are always, “in the sight of the LORD.” He’s looking at us like a newly engaged woman fixates on her engagement ring and all that it means to her. That ring represents the love commitment of her fiancĂ©. In a very real way, life is our engagement to the LORD and death is the wedding consummation. It’s precious to the LORD.

God views “the death of His saints” differently than we do. Death is the ultimate healing at times. Death can mean an end to all suffering and pain. Death can mean a coming home for the saints of God. It means entering the presence of the LORD.  Death leads His saints into His loving embrace.

But who are these “saints”? Death in and of itself is not precious to the LORD. Death is the final enemy that Jesus defeated (1 Corinthians 15:54-58). The death of unholy sinners is tragic and unwanted by the LORD. He desires none perish in a spiritually dead state. He desires none die without His Son Jesus as their Savior and LORD. He wants none to spend eternity separate unwed to Him (e.g. 2 Peter 3:9). God loves everyone and sent Jesus to prove it. God sent His Son Jesus to pay off the death penalty that hangs over every sinner’s head. Through Jesus He gives every sinner the opportunity to be forgiven through faith in Jesus (e.g. Matthew 25:46; John 3:16, 36).

The death of someone who is not a saint leads to eternal suffering and separation from God. If the death of His saints is precious in the sight of God the death of an unbeliever is a tragic and sad. If we take the antonym of “precious” the death of an unbeliever is worthless to the LORD. It is worthless because all its potential preciousness has been squandered. Death without God’s salvation is like throwing a precious diamond into the garbage.

God has an incredible glorious plan for those He loves. It involves an eternity of precious fellowship with himself. “But as it is written:  ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). God is vast and limitless. His plans for those He loves come from the center of His vast deep love filled heart. God looks at the death of His saints as a precious jewel because it is a graduation, it is a finish line, it is a door of realization, it is coming home, it’s a final arrival.  

Who are “saints”? “Saints” (Hebrew chasid) means godly one, good one, holy one, faithful, kind one, pious one, saint. A “saint” is a special person, but not the way certain segments of “the church” teach them to be. Saints don’t necessarily have to perform a miracle. Psalm 116 paints a picture of the “saint.” Let’s look at this picture that is so precious to God. 

First, a saint is one who belongs to God.  The psalmist uses the words “His saints.” The person who belongs to God is the one in whom His Holy Spirit dwells. The “saint” is one who has experienced the second birth; a spiritual birth; they are born again (John 3). The Bible says, “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9). The only way we can become a “saint” is through faith in Christ. Old Testament “saints” were made righteous by faith in God as far as He had revealed Himself to them (e.g. Genesis 15:6).


Once Jesus came all the redemptive requirements were finalized in and through Him. The Bible explains, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26). A person becomes a “saint” by receiving God’s saving gift of gracious forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s not something we do. It’s something he has done for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).  God makes this gift of salvation available to all who would receive this great salvation by faith.


Second, a “saint” is holy; distinctively different than a common sinner. No one can be a “saint” by any effort of their own. To become a saint is a gift of God’s grace and a work of the Spirit in a person’s life. When the Holy Spirit indwells a person, He makes them a “saint”; a holy one. But the one who is saved goes form death to life; there is a tangible change in them (e.g. Acts 26:18). When the Holy Spirit indwells us He makes us holy.


Based on Psalm 116 what does the saint look like? The “saint” says, “I love the LORD” and that love is evidenced by prayerful communication (Psalm 116:1-2). The “saint” trusts their LORD at the point of death (Psalm 116:3-4). The “saint” trusts the LORD at the point of death because they believe “gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yes, our God is merciful” and “He saves me” (Psalm 116:5-7). The “saint” trusts in the LORD to deliver them from death and knows “all men are liars” in contrast to God who is true (Psalm 116:8-11). The “saint” knows there is nothing they can do to compensate the LORD for the salvation he provides. All they can do is receive and drink from the “cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:12-14). That “saint” lives to serve their LORD (psalm 116:16). They are thankful for all the LORD has done for them (Psalm 116:17). And they praise and worship the LORD in His presence and the presence of His other “saints” (Psalm 116:18-19)


Yes, precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. The Bible instructs us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).  The only place in scripture we see Jesus weep is at the death of Lazarus. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Why did Jesus weep at the death of His friend Lazarus? Bible teacher Jon Courson knows a lot about death. He lost a young wife and a child to early deaths by accident. He provides valuable insight into death and the heavenly perspective of it:


Death might not be precious in the sight of family members who miss those who are in heaven. Death might not be precious in the sight of doctors who see it as a failure of their ability to sustain life. But the death of His saints is precious in the Lord’s eyes because He knows the best place for us to be is with Him. Could it be this is why Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus? Eyes have not seen and ears have not heard the wonderful things God has prepared for those that love Him we are told (1 Corinthians 2:9). Jesus knew He would bring Lazarus back to life. Mary and Martha would be excited about it. The friends of Lazarus would be grateful. But perhaps Jesus wept for Lazarus, knowing he would have to leave the wonders of heaven. [1]


Amen to that! The death of His saints is precious to the LORD because He looks forward to us being united with Him. When we see why the death of His saints are precious to Him, it helps us view death in a more precious way ourselves. If we, a loved one, or someone around us aren’t among those referred to as “saints,” then get right with God. Start with yourself. Turn from your sins and ask God to forgive you for your sins through faith in Jesus as Savior. Receive his forgiveness and the Holy Spirit will indwell you and change you into a saint of God. Then death, no matter when or how it comes, will be precious to you too.


Please remember to pray for my friend and her family who have suffered this loss. They are precious in the sight of the LORD. God knows them by name. They are precious to me too. I pray God hold them close during this time of loss. And please also be alert to pray for and come alongside of those around you who have suffered the loss of a loved one. Share in the preciousness of the death of the LORD’s saints.


[1]Courson, J. (2006). Jon Courson's application commentary : Volume two : Psalms-Malachi (145). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Jacob’s Liars

“And he said, ‘Because the LORD your God brought it to me’” – Genesis 27:20b


Some people just do what they want to do. This is true even when God’s word is clear that what they do is sinful. They may feel guilty about what they do. They may even be convicted by the Spirit about what they do. But they do it anyway. And to relieve the pressure of the guilt of sin and God’s conviction they concoct a lie and will even misuse the name and word of God.

How can such things be? The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Satan, the author of lies, fuels the fires of that desperately wicked heart (John 8:43-44). God knows about this dark heart (Jeremiah 17:10). He loves us anyway. He graciously, patiently and providentially works to lead people to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God responds to our darkness with goodness and patience all to turn us around to His eternal life in Christ (Romans 2:4). But there are two primary ways people try to disregard God’s will in their lives. First they say, “Well, God didn’t stop me.” Next they say, “Well, God did it for me.”

Well, God didn’t stop me. People will justify rebelliousness and sin against God’s word by saying “Well, God didn’t stop me.” Jonah is a classic example of this case (cf. Jonah 1-4). God told him to go east to Nineveh. He chose to go west instead. He went down to the docks of Joppa, purchased a ticket, boarded a boat and took off in the opposite direction to what God had called him to. God didn’t stop him. Did that mean God approved? No, definitely not.

God gave Jonah space to decide. And Jonah chose to pass judgment on Nineveh. If it was up to him they could all die in their sins and spend eternity in the torments of hell. As far as Jonah was concerned that was justice. Jonah refused to see through the lens of God’s mercy. He refused to flow with the grace of God. He chose to turn in harsh hardhearted pitiless rebellion against God’s redemptive plan. He justified his rebellion with the sinful ruthlessness of the Assyrian objects of God’s hoped for salvation. They didn’t deserve salvation. He chose to not cooperate in God’s plans. God didn’t stop him; at first.

Of course God got his attention with a storm and being swallowed by a sea creature. God will go to great lengths to convince people to participate in His gracious salvation plans. Three days in the belly of that fish gave Jonah time to reconsider his sinful journey. He did eventually go to Nineveh and preach and see a revival of that Assyrian brood. But he continued to wallow in disappointment, bitterness, and self-pity. That was his choice too. When you buck the callings of God you’re in for a dead end life.

There are a myriad ways people use a similar justification for deviating from God’s word and clear commands. People indulge in sexual promiscuity, sexual immorality, sexual deviance and sexual perversions and justify the filth by saying, “Well, God didn’t stop me.” People will connive and steal, extort and take advantage of others and justify their sinful actions by saying “Well, God didn’t stop me.” People indulge their sinful nature in countless ways using this “God didn’t stop me” strategy. Open the word of God! Receive His truth! Obey it! Does He have to send a storm, swallow you whole and keep you in darkness to get your attention and bring you to your senses? Jonah came to realize, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8 NIV). Jonah’s idols were revenge, hate, anger, and unforgiveness. Jesus came to make us kind and tenderhearted. He came to forgive us and called us to forgive others like He forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).

Well, God did it for me. People will hide behind eisegeted texts (i.e. reading into scriptures something that is not there). They will take scriptures out of context in order to twist God’s word to their sinful intents, which brings us to a Biblical character by the name of Jacob. Jacob had little character. He was one who would do what he wanted to do and then lie and say, “Well, God did it for me.” Jacob’s name literally means heel-catcher. Jacob was a grasper. His world revolved around himself. Jacob was a man of the flesh; always manipulating and operating in half-truths and shades of meaning. You can read about him in Genesis 25-49.

When Jacob was born he came out of his mother’s womb grasping the ankle of his twin brother. He lived his name. He preyed on his even more superficial and carnal brother Esau purchasing Esau’s birthright for pennies on the dollar with a plate of stew. Esau hated his brother because of this. It’s no fun being manipulated and robbed. Esau would hate Jacob even more when Jacob would steal his blessing. And the way Jacob would do it was more heinous than anything he had done before or would ever do again (cf. Genesis 27).

Jacob’s father Isaac was old and nearly blind. Jacob was the favorite of his mother Rebekah. At his mother’s urging Jacob went along with a plan to steal his father’s blessing. The blessing of the patriarch assured God’s favor and the prime place in His plans. The blessing of the father was precious and most valuable in their culture and in God’s plans. Isaac was all ready to bestow the blessing on Esau. The father sent his older son out to hunt down some game and then make some of his famous stew. Esau was a hairy hard hunting man. In those days they shopped for meat in the wilderness. Esau was a master at this. Isaac sent him out. When Esau returned they would sit down, eat, fellowship and Isaac would bestow the blessing on Esau.

Jacob’s mother Rebekah heard of this plan. There was no way she would allow her son Jacob to lose out on the blessing of her husband Isaac. Rebekah was a prime manipulator herself. The family was her domain. So she cooked up a meal, had Jacob put hairy goat skins on his arms and neck as a disguise and then sent him in to Isaac while Esau was still out. Jacob would deceive his father into thinking he was his brother and secure the blessing. It was a pitiless plan that would take advantage of an old blind man at his weakest.

Jacob dressed in goat’s hair brought the meal in to his father. He would have to be at the top of his game of deception. At first Isaac sensed something was not right. He noted “Esau” didn’t sound right. Isaac felt Jacob’s hair transplants and it just didn’t feel like Esau. This “Esau” didn’t even smell right. He asked the faker Jacob how was it that he had returned so fast with the meal. Jacob responded, “Because the LORD your God brought it to me” (Genesis 27:20). Then Isaac came right out and asked, “Are you really my son Esau?” And Jacob lied to his blind elderly father patriarch, “I am” (Genesis 27:24-25).

“Because the LORD your God brought it to me.” This was misusing the LORD for his own selfish profit. And referring to God with the highest most holy name of “the LORD” served to make Jacob’s conniving all the more despicable. Jacob did not appreciate the LORD of his father. To Jacob the LORD was only Someone, someone, something, a name to get what he wanted. He valued his father’s blessing and all the privileges that came with it, but only for the sake of his own personal prosperity.

Jacob had sunk to about as low as a person can go. He was a great distance from fulfilling his patriarchal calling. It wouldn’t be until he encountered God in a desperate life crisis that he would come to a place of full surrender (Genesis 32-33). We look at Jacob and think, How could he do that? We distance ourselves from the thought of doing such a thing but the truth is we stoop that low too and not infrequently.

Have you ever stamped God’s approval on your own willful ways? Come on, be honest. Are you a liar like Jacob? Are you among the heritage of Jacob’s liars? Who are Jacob’s liars? Have you ever stepped out in “faith,” even though what you’re doing is prayerlessly conceived? If so you are a Jacob like liar. Have you ever been confronted with the clear teachings of scripture that contradict and expose your sinful behavior only to respond with silence or an angry unscriptural retort? If so you are a Jacob’s liar. Have you ever justified your actions with an ambiguous “God told me,” when you know in your heart that God never told you anything let alone spoke to you? People misuse God’s name to rubber stamp their sinful choices all the time. They say, “God told me” to do this, to do that, to go here, to go there. It’s another form of Jacob’s lie, “Because the LORD your God brought it to me.” Jacob’s liars do that.

People who live and lie like Jacob think they have stumbled upon the means to quench any and all opposition to doing what they want to do. Who can argue against, “God told me,” or “God did it for me,” or “Because the LORD your God brought it to me”? A person is asked about the person they are dating or intending to marry, “Do they know the LORD?” And the response is something like, “I think they do. I hope they do. Well, anyway, the LORD brought them to me.” And they dismiss God’s warning against being unequally yoked with unbelievers. Then they just do what they want to do (cf. 2 Corinthians 6).

People justify working off the books and not paying taxes to the Caesar of the day. They excuse themselves from giving to God because how else can they pay for the four cable boxes in their home and going to the movies every week, and going to all those games, etc. When asked about working off the books and the rest of their finances they say, “Well, God gave me this job. Well, God wants us to have fun.” He may have given you the job and he does want us to have fun in life, but what about rendering to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God? (Mark 12:17).

Or what about those who settle in for a solitary isolated religious existence that neglects the fellowship of believers? What about “private” religion? When encouraged to fellowship with the church they say, “Well, God just wants me to meet alone with Him.” Maybe they say, “God just wants me to watch that TV preacher.” There’s a time for solitude with Jesus but He doesn’t want you to neglect his Bride the Church. Are these just excuses to dodge dealing with people? Is there simply an issue with laziness? God’s word tells us to not neglect gathering together with fellow Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). Jesus died to bring people together (Ephesians 2). Jesus didn’t say isolate and hibernate, He said infiltrate and influence (Matthew 5:13-16).

There are many, many situations where people lie like Jacob. Whenever we use God’s name to justify falsehood, unscriptural behavior, or self-willed prayerless ways, we lie like Jacob. Are you convicted of this? “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10). “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). That is the truth. God knew what Jacob was doing. He knows what we are doing. Are you guilty of lying like Jacob? Are you a Jacob’s liar?

What should we do if we’ve been lying like Jacob? The first thing we need to do is repent; determine to stop and not repeat our sin. We need to confess our sins to God in Christ and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Then we need to walk in the light and truth of Jesus (1 John 1:7). We need to commit ourselves to God and His holy standard of speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The truth of Jesus will set you free from being a Jacob’s liar (John 8:31-32).

Lying can be a deep hearted problem. It may take some wrestling with God to work it out. That’s how Jacob was changed (Genesis 32). God let him connive, manipulate and carnal his way through life until it boxed him into a corner. Maybe you’re in such a corner. Maybe the lies are coming home to roost. Maybe you’ve been living a lie so long you don’t know what the truth is anymore. Jacob wrestled with God and God brought him face to face with reality. God brought him to see his own limitations. God brought Jacob face to face with Himself so that he could come face to face with his flesh. Then Jacob learned that life is about holding onto God. He learned life is about trusting God not creating self-preserving false life fantasies. Life is about being governed by God. Life is about living with Jesus as your Lord.

This was all worked out between Jacob and God during a fateful night at a place called Mahanaim. Mahanaim means two camps. Jacob had tried one last time to manipulate his way out of trouble. He divided his family and property into two groups so that if his brother Esau caught him (who Jacob believed was coming to kill him in retribution) he could escape. But Mahanaim-two-camps was also referred to by Jacob as “this is God’s camp.” Jacob was about to meet God in a very real life changing way.

That night Jacob took his family and crossed the river Jabbok. The text says, “then Jacob was left alone” (Genesis 32:24). The consequence of his conniving was loneliness and a threatening predicament. It’s at this point of being at the end of himself that “A Man” (who is very probably Jesus in a Christophany) wrestles with Jacob throughout the night. Sometimes it takes a night of wrestling with God to work the carnality out of your system. It wasn’t that long before Jacob realized he couldn’t prevail against the Man. Jacob’s hip, that part of the body critical for standing and walking was put out of joint. It was a wound fatal to the flesh. Jacob would no longer stand on his own, he would lean on God.

It was then, as Jacob continued to hang on to the LORD for dear life that his heart was changed. The Man knew it. Jacob knew it too. His days of heel catching were over and done with. To mark the change the man would no longer be called Jacob but Israel. Israel means governed by God (Genesis 32:27-28). Jacob named this place of encounter with God, Peniel which means facing God. Jacob explained, “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30). “Preserved” means delivered, recovered, or rescued. Jacob used that word because truthfully, he didn’t start living for God until that night’s encounter.

Are you living and lying like Jacob? Are you a Jacob’s liar? Do you see God as merely a means to your ends? Are you misusing God’s name and manipulating His word to do what you want to do and get what you want to get? That’s not real living. That’s not abundant life. Be honest. Maybe be honest for the first time in your life. Bring your stuff to Mahanaim. Come encounter God at Peniel. Wrestle with Jesus for a night if need be. Only don’t live a lie. Speak the truth in love. Live God’s truth in the “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13).  Leave lying, like Jacob did, behind. Welcome Israel!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Rely, Resist and Rebuke

“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God” – 2 Corinthians 10:4a

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you” – James 4:7b

“The Lord rebuke you!” – Jude 9

We are in a spiritual war. Our adversary is none other than the devil himself. He is a murderer and master deceiver (John 8:44). He is the Destroyer (Revelation 9:11). He is a dangerous enemy and not to be taken lightly. God has given His people the perfect equipment to fight against this enemy (Ephesians 6:10-18). Our weapons are not of this world but are spiritual and mighty in God. The weapons God provides enables us to pull down strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

But weapons are useless without the proper strategy. You can have the best equipment, the most technologically advanced and even limitless resources, but if you use the wrong strategy all can still be lost. God provides us with the most powerful and effective weaponry and the most effective strategic way that leads us to victory. God’s strategy involves relying on God as your Source of power, resisting and rebuking the enemy.

Rely on God’s power. The weapons God provides find their power in Him. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). We cannot use our God-provided weapons carnally, or in our own strength (i.e. the “flesh” or “carnal” means) and our own understanding. For God’s weapons to be effective we need to understand they get their might from Him. Scripture exhorts us, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). We are to be “strong in the Lord,” not ourselves. God’s power is provided by the Holy Spirit.

This is what it means to “Submit to God” (James 4:7a). This is what it means to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7c). We submit ourselves to our Commander and His marching orders. We draw near to and tap into God our Source of power. We surrender to God and entrust ourselves to His command. He will direct our path and empower us for the mission. He will organize, equip and empower us for the campaign. Apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

When God’s people returned from captivity to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem they were opposed by enemies on the outside as well as weak-willed naysayers on the inside. There was great temptation to be discouraged. To these circumstances the Lord spoke to His people through the prophet Zechariah. The Lord began by saying, “For who has despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10). In other words, “Get your eyes off of the rubble problems and onto Me your LORD. And in the same context the LORD encouraged His people in their task by stating it’s, “Not by might nor by power, but by My spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah (4:6). When you’re faced with a discouraging situation and tempted to give up to defeat remember it’s not about “me” it’s about “Thee.” Our empowerment comes from the LORD. The Holy Spirit empowers us to do what God calls us to do. That is the primary victory strategy of the prevailing Church (cf. Matthew 16:18 and Acts 1:8). The LORD, in the name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit is our Source of power. It is “the God of peace,” Who will, “crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20).

Resist the devil. To resist the devil is to take a defensive posture. God’s first command strategy is to “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7b). How can little me resist the HUGE enemy devil? We have to keep the proper perspective. We are powerless on our own, but are mighty through God.  That’s why our first step is to recognize our Source of power. We have authority and power by the indwelling presence of Almighty God! “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  


To resist means to discern the enemies’ means of attack. The battlefield is our mind. The enemy attacks us with wrong thoughts. When the Christian is besieged by thoughts of condemnation, guilt, worry, anxiety, hatred, resentment, bitterness, we need to understand that those thoughts are not from the Spirit but from the devil. Thoughts from God will always drive or draw us closer to God. Thoughts from the evil one will always aim at driving or drawing us away from God. The thought that tempts us to neglect God’s word, fellowship, worship and prayer is the thought that comes from the pit of hell. This is when we must resist the devil. This is when we take every thought captive to obey Jesus.

How is this done? Empowered by our God in the Spirit we use God’s sword of the Spirit which is the word of God and cast down the devil’s false “arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, being every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). By faith we are to discipline ourselves to think on those things acceptable to God based on his word (cf. Philippians 4:8-9). The importance of God’s word cannot be overemphasized in this regard.

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible and it’s no accident it’s about the importance of God’s word. Over and over again we are exhorted to meditate on God’s word. To meditate is not emptying your mind and focusing on your belly-button. Biblical God-ordained meditation is mulling over, walking around in your mind and digesting the substance of scripture. To meditate is to go over and over a passage until it becomes a part of you. When we meditate on God’s word it enables us to see Biblical principles that are conveyed in scripture and that can be applied to life (Psalm 119:15). We gain understanding by meditating on God’s word (Psalm 119:27, 99). The more we meditate on God’s word the more we will love it (Psalm 119:48, 97).

When we meditate on God’s word it prepares us to deal with attacks from those in positions of power (Psalm 119:23). Meditating on God’s word prepares us to deal with the attacks of the proud and will humble the proud in shame (Psalm 119:78). If we have a sleepless night because of life’s circumstances, it is the perfect opportunity to meditate on God’s word (Psalm 119:148). God’s word is integral to effectively resisting demonic attacks.

Rebuke demonic forces in Jesus' name. To rebuke the devil is an offensive posture. Fighting the devil does not only involve defense. We are exhorted and directed by God to be involved with “pulling down strongholds” of the enemy (2 Corinthians 10:4). We are more than conquerors who are called by God to go on the offensive against the strongholds of the enemy (Romans 8:37-39). Satan’s strongholds are those places where Christ has yet to be lifted up and He is not worshipped as Savior and Lord. Our mission is to storm the gates of those strongholds where Satan is encamped. One way we go on the offensive against the devil is to rebuke him and his legions in the name of Jesus.

Before we look at what going on a rebuking offensive involves we need to understand that an offensive strategy of rebuking the devil and his minions is not something to be entered into lightly. Satan is a formidable foe and so are his demons. This is a holy war and while Satan and his army are anything but reverent toward the Lord, we who fight alongside Jesus must do so with reverence and holiness.

In Jude it states, “Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries.  Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10 But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves.” (Jude 8-10). The context of these verses is a discussion of false teachers. Notice Jude references “Michael the archangel” as the one contending with the devil.  Michael the archangel is an angel in a very prominent place in God’s plans. He is particularly mentioned as a defender of Israel (cf. Daniel 10:21; 12:1). In Revelation he is the angel who does battle with the dragon in heaven (Revelation 12:7). Jude refers to Michael because he is the one God ordained to war directly against Satan. The point Jude makes is that this holy angelic being who as representative of God and God’s forces, “dared not bring against him [Satan] a reviling accusation.” “Reviling” (Greek blasphemia) means slander, impious, railing, evil speaking. In going after the devil Michael the archangelic representative of God did not irreverently shout down or verbally attack Satan. Therefore, neither should we.


Satan, Lucifer, rebelled against Almighty God in pride. Lucifer rebelled against God with words such as, “I will ascend. . . I will exalt my throne. . . I will sit on the mount of the congregation. . . I will ascend above. . . I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:12-14). Lucifer rebelled in arrogant self-centered pride. Those who represent God are not to respond in kind. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (2 Corinthians 10:4). Carnality is self-centeredness and self-reliance. Michael set the example of rebuking Satan. He did not rebuke Satan in his own name. Michael maintained his holy reverence as a representative of  “the Most High” God and went on the offensive in the name of the Lord. He said, “The Lord rebuke you!” To do anything more or less than fighting the devil in the name of the Lord is to “speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves.”


The word “rebuke” (Greek epitimao) means to censure, admonish, forbid, charge, directly charge, charge with an offense, or rebuke. Again the place of scripture in this aspect of God’s strategy cannot be overemphasized. Our only basis for rebuking the devil is the word of God. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Any censuring, admonishing, charging, accusing of offense and rebuking is only as effective as it is based on God’s word. We don’t rebuke the devil or anyone based on human opinion or preference. We rebuke the enemy based on their deviating from and disavowing God’s Holy Word.


When Peter declared Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-19). These words spell out our offensive battle strategy.

First we receive revelation from the Lord. The spiritual gift of discernment is provided to the people of the church in order to recognize and expose devilish lies and schemes. God’s word is the lens we look through to identify devilish deceptions and designs. It’s so important to regularly spend quiet time with the LORD to receive His peace and direction in the spiritual war (cf. Psalm 27). We get our marching orders from God and His word.

Second, we stand on the rock of the declaration of Jesus as Christ. Peter is “a stone,” he is not the rock. The “rock” is Peter’s God-revealed declaration that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. Ultimately all spiritual battles and wars center on Jesus. The devil attempts at every turn to misrepresent, diminish, speak derogatorily of, and destroy Jesus and His holy name. If we are to survive and even victoriously prevail in the spiritual war, we must stay close to Jesus and declare Him to those around us; especially those who are the unwitting victims in this unholy war.

Third, with the church in the name of Jesus we storm the gates of hell. When the seventy disciples were sent out by Jesus they returned exclaiming, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (Luke 10:17). The name of Jesus is not a magic wand. The name of Jesus refers to doing things the way Jesus would do them. We are to follow the steps of Jesus and walk as he walked in this war (1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6).

But there is authoritative power in the name of Jesus. When we act in the name of Jesus it results in a number of things. When two or three gather in the name of Jesus, Jesus comes into the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). When we pray to God and make our petitions we have a blank check endorsed with the name of Jesus (John 14:13). That doesn’t mean we have license to ask God for frivolous things. It means we ask in the nature of the One Whose name we are asking in. Jesus said God would do anything we ask in His name (John 14:14; 15:16; 16:23-26). The Holy Spirit comes in the name of Jesus (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit comes in the name of Jesus to make those claiming Jesus’ name like the One whose name they claim. In the power of the Spirit we fight effectively in the spiritual war. Just like the early disciples demons will have to leave their human possessions in the name of Jesus (Mark 16:17). There is power in the name of Jesus because Jesus fulfilled the redemptive gospel purpose on the cross and defeated death in the resurrection.

But let me give a warning here. The name of Jesus is not to be trifled with. The name of Jesus can only be used by those who know Jesus. There is an account in scripture of some traveling Jewish exorcists who thought using the name of Jesus was like using a store bought brand of exorcism powder. They said to a demon possessed person, “We exorcise you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” The result was not what they expected. The demon viciously retorted, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you.” Then the demon possessed man jumped on them, beat the presumption out of them and scared their clothes off them and watched them run away in defeat and shame (Acts 19:11-20). Spiritual warfare is not a game. It is not to be taken lightly. You have to know Jesus as your personal Savior and recognize Jesus and Jesus alone is your Source of power. Then and only then are you ready to take up arms and resist and rebuke the devil in Jesus’ name.



Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Death Precedes Life

Most Assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. – John 12:24


How does a person grow spiritually? How do they grow closer to God? How do they become more effective and better equipped to serve God? How does a church grow? These are important questions because growth is a sign of life. A lack of growth is a sign of death.


The human body goes through constant change during its seasons of life. From conception the human being grows for about nine months in the mother’s womb. Then the little boy or girl is birthed into the outside world. It’s a wonderful sight and should be cause for much celebration. If the child breathes and eats and thrives they progress in life. If they fail to take a breath, eat and thrive they die and life is short. The life of millions of children has been and continues to be cut short in the womb by the willful decision of a parent. This is called abortion. This is tragic.


Once born the young human progresses through infancy, toddling, pre-school, elementary school, adolescence, puberty, teens, and young adult. A human body grows through many changes; cells are used and die and others replenish the body. At around age 25 there is a major transition. Up until this point the replenishing living cells outnumber the dying cells. But at this point the replenishing cells stop keeping up with the dying cells. A deficit of replenishing cells marks the onset of death. Death begins at around age 25. Since the average life expectancy is around 80 years, life is proportionally more about death and preparing for it than it is about life. They say our life expectancy is increasing. Most people can’t live long enough. Death is a dark black hole of uncertainty for many. Many fear death. Death is definitely a big part of life.  


Spiritually, death precedes life. In Hebrews it states Jesus came that, “through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Death is a part of life. But we need not fear death. In fact death is a big part of spiritual growth. Spiritually speaking, death precedes life.


Spiritually, death can be an instrument to introduce life. In the gospel of John Jesus demonstrates His power over death when he raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11). This was an incredible miraculous sign since Lazarus had already been dead for four days and his body had already started decaying. But as we continue in the gospel account we see that the death of Lazarus was used by God to draw people to Jesus. Lazarus became an attraction and when people came to see him their interest in the One who had raised him from the dead was perked (John 12:11). Those who had seen Lazarus raised from the dead told others about it (John 12:17). The enemies of Jesus hardened themselves against this sign and sought to kill Lazarus along with Jesus (John 12:9-10). Jesus had the solution to death. Jesus could take death and use it for His glory. Because of this death and resurrection it was being said, “the world has gone after Him!” (John 12:19). The death of Lazarus had become an instrument to bring life to the lost.



Signs get our attention. But the focus should always be on Jesus. Samuel Chadwick (1860-1932), a Methodist evangelist once said, “If God is at work week by week raising men from the dead, there will always be people coming to see how it is done. You cannot find an empty church that has conversion for its leading feature. Do you want to know how to fill empty chapel? Here is the answer: Get your Lazarus.” The key to a growing church is a ministry that raises people from their deadness in sin to new life in Christ (Romans 6:1-4; Ephesians 2:1-9). They came to see Lazarus, but then were introduced to the God of Lazarus; Jesus. Who will come to Jesus for new life, eternal life and then through the transformation of the Spirit become an attraction to bring others to Christ? Lift up Jesus. Be saved and transformed. Come to Jesus! Death precedes life.


As we continue in the gospel account we see more of how the death of Lazarus was used to bring people to Jesus. “Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.’ (John 12:20-22).  This is evangelism; people coming to Jesus by word of mouth. Philip had a habit of bringing people to Jesus (John 1:41; 6:8, and 9). This really is the primary way that people come to Jesus. The Spirit perks their interest and then puts believers in their path to whom they can ask further directions on how to come to Jesus.

Spiritually, death is relevant to all people. We are in the final week leading up to the cross. Jesus is announcing the time of culmination for His redemptive mission (John 12:23).  Jesus addresses these Greeks with a reference to grain and farming illustration. He addressed them in a way they would be able to relate to. To the Jews He referred to Old Testament scripture. To Greeks here He refers to what they could relate to. Jesus speaks a language that people can understand. And really what Jesus speaks about is relevant to all people. He speaks of death.

There is a place for relevance in evangelism. The problem today is that we have used the idea of relevance to edit God’s Holy Scripture and that should never happen. God’s truth, God’s Word, is holy. Our job is to communicate the truth He has revealed in His Word in an understandable way while never diluting or diminishing the truth contained in it. That’s what Jesus did. So should we. But remember, the message is the same: death, burial, resurrection, to eternal life.

Spiritually, death precedes life; death is essential to growth. Jesus communicates a prime principle of spiritual growth. He says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” (John 12:24). With these words Jesus provides the spiritual principle that death precedes life. There is life in Christ, but we enter into it by dying to self. We come to know this only by God’s grace. It is not something we think up or implement in our own strength. It is a work of God’s grace in and through us. Salvation is a work of God and then offered as a gift of God to be received by faith (e.g. John 6:29; Titus 3:4-7).

Spiritually we must die to self-reliance. We are saved by God’s grace. The dead can’t take credit for anything. The salvation God offers as a free gift is received by faith. Saving faith, by nature, involves repentance. Dying to self begins with repentance. Repentance means having a change of mind. It means turning from. Repentance is a course correction. It involves turning from our sinful lives. It means we admit and confess our sinfulness to God. Repentance involves turning from the idea that we can offset and self-atone for our own sins by doing good works. The Bible is very clear that we can’t work for our salvation (Romans 3:10, 23; Galatians 3:10-13; James 2:10). We have to repent, to die to the idea of relying on ourselves for salvation.

Spiritually death involves repentance. Repentance is a turning from something but it is also turning to Someone. We turn from self-reliance and sin to God through faith in Jesus Christ. We trust that Jesus and Jesus alone atoned for our sins (i.e. paid for us the just penalty incurred by our sins). He did that on the cross (cf. Isaiah 53). He paid our death penalty for us. He died for us so that we would not have to die (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). And it is in His death that we learn about the dying He does require from us. Our dying is tied up with His death (Galatians 2:20). Therefore it is only through faith in the Person Jesus as Savior and Lord that a person can receive new life in Christ. Without Jesus we are dead in our sins. With Jesus we experience eternal life. Jesus referred to this as being “born again” (cf. John 3). The Holy Spirit enters us and gives us spiritual life when we turn from our sins to Jesus as Savior in faith.

This spiritual principle of death precedes life is seen here in the agricultural illustration used by Jesus. A plant grows when a seed is buried in the ground, dies, but then gives birth to the plant. We could look at this scientifically and come up with detailed explanations for all that takes place in the birthing of a plant. But spiritually speaking the death precedes life principle involves a certain amount of mystery. That is because it involves the heart.

Spiritually we must die to self and receive the seed of God’s word. The rudimentary foundational parable Jesus used to communicate His message is the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8). In this parable Jesus speaks of sowing the seed of the word of God. The sown word hits four kinds of hearts. First it hits the rock hard heart of the person who rejects God’s word and won’t let it penetrate at all. This is the hardened atheist. Next it hits the shallow hearted person who responds to the word in a way that appears that they are saved but because of their superficial minimal concern for the word it is never allowed to take root and grow. When a trial hits them, they forsake the Lord and His word. The third soiled heart represents the person who also receives the word but not as something of priority or specialness. They just accept God’s word into their crowded lives and because of the cares of the world the word of God never grows. Remember, no growth, no life. But the fourth heart soil is the good one. This good hearted person receives the word and it takes root and grows. Growth is evidence of life. Only the heart that takes the word and lets it grow in them is the person who is genuinely saved. If there is no growth from the implanted word, there is no life. It’s as simple as that.

Spiritually we die to self and receive the light of God’s word. In the context of Jesus giving the Parable of the Sower He also speaks of the need for light. Generally speaking a plant will not grow without light. God’s word is our spiritual light (Psalm 119:105; cf. also Psalm 19:8l 43:3; Proverbs 6:23; 2 Peter 1:19).  If we cover God’s light up, there is no spiritual growth. That is why Jesus said, “Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:21-25). The seed sown is the word of God. Spiritual growth comes as we take in the light of God’s word. There are no shortcuts or substitutes to the prayerful reading, study, meditation on and sharing of God’s word. Without God’s word there is no seed to germinate; there is nothing to grow.

Spiritually death preceding life involves mystery. Spiritual growth is something that takes place in the hidden recesses of the heart. The only way we know it is happening is by the outward changes that we can see. Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God in terms of planting. He said: “And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. 28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29). Jesus says of the sowing farmer, “he himself does not know how.” There is an element of mystery. Spiritual growth can’t always be explained. The way someone comes to the Lord can’t always be explained. Why a church grows can’t always be explained. What we can know is that when we sow the seed of God’s word He is faithful to produce spiritual growth. That is His promise.

The church has sought growth in many different ways. The church has sought to reduce growth to a formula or a particular “strategy.” There is an entire “Church Growth Movement” that has progressed over the years.  The church has sought to grow through entertainment, Madison Avenue types of marketing and by using a lot of bells and whistles to attract people. But you can’t substitute smoke and mirrors for Holy Scripture. You may attract a crowd like that, but there won’t be much genuine spiritual growth. That’s exactly what we see in the church today.

Too often the church has watered down the word of God for fear of offending sinners. The idea is that we draw people in with entertainment or a soft message and then coax them along into deeper truth. The only problem is that they don’t bring the people deeper. Poke a hole in the reverence of Scripture and the breath of the Spirit is let out. With a diminished emphasis on God’s word, all you end up with is a compromised word and misrepresenting what the “church” is according to scripture. This is all an attempt to grow God’s church by human wisdom. It’s foolishness. God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8). We need to die to these self-reliant ways.

Spiritual die to self, sow the seed of God’s word and trust Him to work. Jesus speaks of spiritual growth in terms of scattering the seed of God’s word on the ground of people’s hearts. Then it speaks of resting in the Lord. Sow the seed of God’s word. Then as the farmer goes to sleep knowing the seed will grow, we can sleep on it resting in the faithfulness of God that His word will not return void. This is God’s promise. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:9-11).

Spiritually, sown seed of the word of God will yield a crop. It may be gradual; “first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head” (Mark 4:28). But it will yield a harvest. We may not know how this happens. Just as we can’t see what happens when a seed is planted, so too we can’t see the workings of God’s word in the heart of a person until it is born. Our responsibility is to sow the seed of God’s word and trust Him to grow new believers. “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). We are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9). All of this is a product of God’s grace (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Death precedes life is the way God works.

The bottom line is that spiritual growth whether it is individual internal qualitative growth or group external quantitative numerical growth, is all a product of God using His word. It is the Spirit of God using the word of God to birth and build people of God. If we want spiritual growth we have to study, meditate on, pray over, preach, teach and counsel the word of God. Spiritual growth comes via the word of God. Without the word there is not spiritual growth. We have to die to our self-reliant ways and live to Jesus and His word.

Have you been sowing seed for a long time? Praying for a lost loved one who remains lost. Trying to train up a child in the word of God and they are resistant? Sharing the word with a friend, neighbor, family member and they just aren’t receptive? I want to encourage you to keep sowing the word of God. Sometimes a seed sprouts growth overnight like a Chia Pet. But sometimes, like palm trees, the seeds can take years to germinate and grow. Our responsibility is to sow the seed and trust God for the growth. So rather than staying up worrying all night, sow God’s word, and then entrust the situation to the Lord. Go to sleep. Maybe when you wake up there will be a magnificent new plant of a new life in Christ to harvest.