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, October 19, 2017

Ghostly Encounters


Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. - Job 4:14 
We watch innocent children play in a playroom at home and all of a sudden a child with death in its face pokes its head momentarily through a shadowy doorway behind them. The hair on the back of our necks stands up in response. Self -proclaimed “scientists” go from place to place testing to verify whether or not reported ghostly voices, shadowy figures, scary touches, or emotional impressions are real. It all draws in the curious and makes for popular TV. What is really going on here?

Did you know that there is someone in scripture who experienced a similar ghostly encounter? Read the experience of Eliphaz as recorded in the book of Job:

·         Job 4:12-17 - “Now a word was secretly brought to me, and my ear received a whisper of it. 13 In disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, 14 Fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. 15 Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair on my body stood up. 16  It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence; then I heard a voice saying: 17 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?

To understand what is going on here the context of the passage is very important. Job is a book about trusting God in terrible times of suffering. It is a book about the meaning of true faith. True faith isn’t based on reward or blessing, it is based on a trusting relationship with Almighty God. But the context of this book is often glanced over. The book opens with a description of Job as, “the greatest of all people of the East” (1:3). What makes Job so great? His holy walk with God and concern for the spiritual welfare of his family (1:5). What matters most is God’s assessment of Job. God says, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (1:8). God is proud of “His servant” Job. We should all desire for God to think and say the same things about us. But who was God speaking to when He said this?

God was speaking to Satan when he commented on Job. The “sons of God” or angelic beings come to present themselves before God. Satan, (a fallen angelic being) joined in coming before the LORD (1:6). Once before the LORD God asks Satan where he has been. Satan’s response is important to note. He says, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it” (1:7). And it would not be presumptuous to say that Satan still goes to and fro throughout the earth with ill intent. The New Testament states:

·         1 Peter 5:8-9 - Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

Job is in part, a book about resisting Satan. After the second chapter Satan is not mentioned again in Job. And yet Satan’s encounter with God is the backdrop for the entire book.

Spiritual warfare is the setting for the book of Job. God brags on Job, Satan responds with a ridiculing retort:

·         Job 1:9-11 - 9 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”

God accepts the challenge and removes His hedge of protection from Job (1:12). Satan ruthlessly removes Jobs wealth and family (1:13-21). Job’s faith proves steadfast. “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (1:22).

Satan wasn’t satisfied. He again goes before the LORD and again describes his dealings as, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it” (2:1-2). This time God again boasts on Job saying, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and suns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause” (2:3). God glories in the steadfast integrity of His servant Job. Notice Job is referred to by God as “My servant.” Job lives for the LORD. Job sees His life and the circumstances of it as fully surrendered to the LORD. This is verified by the description of Job’s response to his loss. The passage states:

·         Job 1:20-21 - 20 Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

None of us in our right mind would want to experience losses like Job did. But if we ever do, we should pray for Job’s attitude as expressed by God’s inspired word here.

Satan wasn’t satisfied; he never is. He proudly challenged God’s words again with rippling rebellion saying, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” (2:5). Ah, there is Satan’s motive and goal. He wants to get Job to curse God. God gives permission for even this (2:8). Notice God is sovereign; nothing happens to Job; no attack is made without the express permission of God. Satan and God are not equals. Satan is under the sovereign control of God.  But God gives Satan permission to physically afflict Job in an effort to test his faith.

What strategy does Satan rely on besides the actually destruction of Job’s wealth, health and family? We see it in the reaction of Job’s wife. After having lost all and being further physically afflicted Job’s wife encourages him to do exactly what Satan so desired, “Curse God and die!” (2:9). Job’s wife is culpable in that she stopped be a helper to Job and turned to being a defeated antagonist to her husband. Satan often works to divide and conquer in the marriage relationship. Remember Eve and Adam (Gen. 3). Job’s response to his wife is suited for any spouse who acts like her; “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” The summary assessment of Job is, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10). Satan will stoop to anything to accomplish his cursed plans. And he didn’t stop there.

Job, the biggest loser on earth at that time, having been ridiculed by the one closest to him, his wife, he is then joined by three friends (2:11-13). At first they didn’t even recognize Job so torn was he by his circumstances. But when they did see who it was, they wept with their friend and tore their clothes in empathy. Then they sat down with him for seven days of silent sorrowing together (2:11-13).

Job then speaks and starts what will become an incredible dialogue with his friends and ultimately with God in an effort to explain his circumstances. Who is to blame? Why has this happened? These are the questions addressed in this incredible book. That is the context of the ghostly appearance mentioned earlier.

The first of Job’s friends to respond in an effort to explain Job’s circumstances and set him right, is Eliphaz. And it is Eliphaz who bases his words on “a word” that “was secretly brought to me” by the ghostly figure in the night. Eliphaz and the other two friends Bildad and Zophar, as well as a fourth young late comer named Elihu are all in the end rebuked by God (42:7). Now we can’t attribute all of their response to ghostly apparitions, but at least we can do so for Eliphaz. The account given by Eliphaz concerning the ghostly appearance in the night is not coincidental. There is spiritual warfare going on here. This ghostly appearance is also not solitary in its occurrence.

When we look in the Bible we find other incidents of spirits influencing people. A spirit of ill will had an ill effect on Abimelech (Judges 9:23). King Saul was distressed by a spirit after he had disobeyed the LORD (1 Sam. 16:14-15; 19:9). Lying spirits influenced false prophets (1 Kings 22:23). Satan himself influenced King David to momentarily not trust in God but instead trust in his own earthly forces (1 Chron. 21:1). Jesus cast out evil spirits from people in the New Testament (Mat. 8:16; Mark 1:23-27). And Judas’ heinous betrayal of Jesus is linked to Satan entering him (Luke 22:3).

A point to be made here is that the “friend” of Job who should have encouraged him became a source of discouragement and aggravation in part as a result of passing on words he had received from a ghostly figure in the night. It is not farfetched to associate this ghost with the work of Satan. His desire is to compound Job’s pain with relentless accusations from those closest to him over the bulk of the book of Job. It wasn’t that Satan entered his friends. They believed in God and had a relationship with Him. But they allowed themselves to be influenced by Satan through a ghost inspired (satanically motivated) response as well as their own proud presumptuous reasoning based on very limited information. Proverbs states, “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive” (Prov. 17:28). They should have kept their peace.

The broader point to be made is that Satan worked to manipulate and influence others for his purposes by way of a ghostly appearance. The Bible says:

·         Ephesians 6:12 - 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Job’s enemy was not his friend; it was Satan and his demons. Satan is an intelligent being. He was once a gloriously beautiful cherub but he fell in pride to become ugliest of adversaries of God (Ezek. 28:12-17). Satan is a defeated foe. Jesus defeated him publically and decisively at the cross (Col. 2:15). But he is still at work and he will stoop to anything to work his plan to bring people to curse God. Today we see his work in the proliferation of ghostly occultic interests. Satan plays on the curiosity for the unknown in people yet blinded by Him (2 Cor. 4:4). He wants to distract people from the reality of God and His love and grace and salvation by creating an environment where people seek ghosts instead of God. Our response should be to, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11). Look at what happened with Job and his friends. Shine the light of truth on the deceptive darkness of Satan. Expose the ghostly encounters for what they really are, a work of Satan. May God help us by His Spirit in this task. All to His glory. Amen.

                                                                                                                         

 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Big Trees


18 Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.” – Luke 13:18-19


The story is told of a young preacher fresh out of seminary who was scheduled to preach his first message. He was full of theology and hermeneutics. He had the perfect message that he was sure would impress not to mention spur on a mighty revival for which he could add to his legacy. He couldn’t wait to make a name for himself.

When the time came for him to preach he bounded up to the pulpit with a zealous bounce, opened his Bible, and began to deliver his message. But as soon as he opened his mouth, an anxiety came over him. He began to stammer and stumble over his words. He had written out this message with great pride. He even included notes about when and how to gesture in his delivery so as to emphasize his point. But none of his pre-planned gestures seemed to move the congregation. All he got was coughs and sleep-nodding heads. Not even his pre-planned witty jokes and “powerful” illustrations had any effect. It was brutal.

The first five minutes seemed like a day and the rest of the message seemed like an eternity in sermon delivery hell. It was a thoroughly humiliating experience. He was cut down to size for sure. He went up with head held high but came down with head hanging low. He felt knee high to a grass hopper. As the disaster ended and the young preacher descended the pulpit, one old wise saint commented, “If he’d have gone up like he came down, he’d have come down as he had gone up.” Truer words have seldom been spoken.

There is a great need for humility in ministry. Indeed, God says very clearly in His word, “’God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:5b-6). Humility is a prerequisite for successful ministry. Jesus was the perfect example of such humility. He was born to unprivileged parents and birthed in a poor man’s stable (Luke 2:4-7). He submitted Himself to His parents as a child (Luke 2:51). He likely learned manual labor as a carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55). So humble was Jesus that His opponents didn’t even know where He was from (John 9:29). He never owned a house or had anywhere to permanently lay His head (Luke 9:58).

Jesus submitted Himself to be baptized according to the Law even though He never sinned (Matthew 3:13-15). He came to serve not be served, and to give His life a ransom for the lost (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27). He associated with sinners even if it meant the religiously prestigious in high places frowned on it. He wasn’t bothered that His associations with the lowly led the religious establishment of His day to call into question His authority and used it to tarnish His reputation (Matthew 9:10-11; Luke 15:1-2). Jesus didn’t seek nor did He receive glory or accolades from men (John 5:41). He refused to be put up on a pedestal or be prematurely made King (John 6:15). He knew that before the crown comes the cross. When the people tried to force kingly rule on Him He rode the saddle of a lowly donkey, not a white stallion.

Jesus did this humbly knowing that it fulfilled prophecy at the expense of earthly position (Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:15). Jesus emptied Himself and was a willing servant (Philippians 2:7). He came from the wealth of heaven and willfully made Himself poor to reach humanity (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus came and adopted a position of complete submission to His Father in Heaven (John 6:38; Hebrews 10:9). He came and experienced weakness to give us confidence He could empathize and relate to our weaknesses (Hebrews 5:7). Jesus washed His disciple’s dirty feet! (John 13:5).

JESUS SUBMITTED HIMSELF TO THE BELLIGERENCE OF SINFUL HUMANITY; to false accusations; to false arrest; to false beatings; to brutal scourging; to crucifixion; to death (Isaiah 50:6; 53:3, 7; Matthew 6-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19). Jesus was willing to be called “a worm” (Psalm 22:6). He laid down His life in humility in order to save lost sheep (John 10:15). Jesus obeyed and lived the Father’s plan even as it led to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). He did this all with humble joy (Hebrews 12:2).

Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). These words of Jesus call those who follow Him to a humble walk. It is impossible to know Jesus and live closely to Him without experiencing humility. In the beginning humanity could walk with God in the Garden and do so freely in beautiful loving fellowship (Genesis 2). But a sinful choice rooted in pride and a disregard for the holiness of God led to a loss of that fellowship. There was an eviction from that Garden. There was a distancing from the presence of God (Genesis 3). From that point on those who came into the presence of the great I AM needed to be told to take off their shoes for they stood on holy ground (cf. Exodus 3). Sin leads to a loss of the sense of the holiness of God. A loss of the sense of the holiness of God leads away from humility and toward pride. God opposes the proud.

In Luke 13 Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God. Jesus stated His purpose in coming was to preach the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). He sent and sends His followers out to preach that same Gospel kingdom of God message (Luke 9:2). He connected the kingdom of God with poverty (Luke 6:20). I wonder why so many in the church today connect prosperity where Jesus preached poverty? I’m all for Making America Great Again. But until the church becomes great again, in Jesus’ name, everyone is going to suffer.

Jesus said the one who was least in God’s kingdom would be greater than the great prophet John the Baptist (Luke 7:28). John the Baptist didn’t have a donkey, horse, or even a goat. He didn’t have a vehicle. He didn’t have a suit, nor did he dress with trendiness. John the Baptist humbly dressed in smelly scratchy camel’s hair. He ate no calorie conscious, protein and carb perfectly balanced diet. He ate locusts and wild honey.

Jesus called John the Baptist great. If John the Baptist was great, and those in God’s kingdom are greater, doesn’t that mean those who live in God’s kingdom should in some way exceed his life principles? I know we are greater by virtue of the covenant of grace being greater than the covenant of Law under which John lived, but shouldn’t our greatness also include, perhaps, a greater humility than John? Shouldn’t we be even more humbled by the incredible superiority of God’s covenant of grace?  The Law exposes and makes crystal clear the depth of sin and distance from God all humanity lives in (e.g. Romans 1-3 and 7). Shouldn’t the new heart of God’s New Covenant in Christ offered by His grace which opens the door to His Holy Presence, shouldn’t that humble us more?

Jesus associated the kingdom of God with “glad tidings” (Luke 8:1). But when you talk about humility to many in the church today they aren’t glad about it. They yawn when they should be yielding. They feel threatened by talk of humility. They immediately wonder if that means they should give up some of their “stuff.” “Does humility mean I have to give up my home? My honors? My homies?” The church today is becoming more and more focused on how to be the best “you” with emphasis on Y-O-U. The church today is very human centered; humanistic. We might not like to hear it, but really, when you look at the church through the lens of scripture what you see are people on the throne where only God should be.

There are a number of causes of the decline of the church. I believe this worldly view crept into the church through the well-intentioned efforts of the Christian psychology self-esteem movement. Unfortunately, as people in the church were told to deal with their issues by resorting to secularly psychological practices, it led to a preoccupation with self. This mindset directly feeds into pride and self-centeredness. The world is moving further and further away from God and toward self. One has to wonder, how long before those in the church are seeking out “safe spaces” outside the refuge we find in Jesus? As long as the church looks to the world for answers her standards will remain low and common rather than high and holy. The church of God’s kingdom was never meant to be commonly like other earthly institutions. The church was meant to be distinctive, different, run by “His divine power” (2 Peter 1:3-4). Unfortunately, the church is choosing a broad worldly path. The church is filled with people who are for the most part worldly, carnal to the core “Christians.”

Then there are those who worship at the idol of academia. Their theology of grace is warped. It frees people to sin instead of freeing them from sin. Those who hold such views think nothing of proudly flaunting their “freedom” in God’s “grace” to indulge in ever increasing worldly lifestyle practices such a drunkenness, profanity, and profligate prosperity. But any definition that winks or condones sin is counter to scripture. Paul said, “Certainly not!” to any idea that grace allowed for sin rather than hallowed living. Jesus spoke in parables to clearly reveal the before unknown mysteries of God’s kingdom (Luke 8:10). Those who “see” God’s kingdom as looking lightly at sin are those who in reality are, “Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” It’s no accident that the best educated religious leaders of Jesus day were amongst those who just didn’t get Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God. Its’ too frequently the same situation today. When Jesus launched out into His ministry of preaching the kingdom He did so proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). “Repent” is a clear call to turn from sin. How on earth did the church come to its present ungodly-kingdom living? It arrived here by compromise fueled by pride.

The church is in dire need of some of the healing associated with the kingdom of God (Luke 9:11; 10:9). Those first disciples and Apostles would see the beginning of the kingdom of God once Jesus had died on the cross and risen from the dead. Jesus said as much (Luke 9:27). We see the kingdom of God stage one in the book of Acts. I say “stage one” because the kingdom of God will be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth (Revelation 20).  But until then we are to live the kingdom of God in the power of the Spirit as those first disciples of Jesus did in the Book of Acts.

Jesus said preaching the kingdom of God was to be our top priority; even more important than burying our dead (Luke 9:60). We are to seek the kingdom first in all we do and in all we are (Luke 12:31a). We were not to turn back from this mission (Luke 9:62). It holds true for us today. We are to bring the kingdom of God to others with our very presence; by the way we live (Luke 10:11). We are to cast out demons with the finger of God according to the message of God’s kingdom (Luke 11:20). Jesus promised, if we tend to the mission of God’s kingdom everything we need will be provided for us (Luke 12:31b). That’s everything we need, not everything we want will be provided to us. God never condones spending like drunken sailors or indulging our flesh. That’s true no matter how off course the modern church message has become.

The church itself today has in many cases become nothing more than the establishment of our own little kingdoms. We have deduced a modern day very much secular view of what God meant by “the kingdom of God” and forced our misinterpretation on it. Jesus initial kingdom parable in Luke’s gospel account gave a precautionary word in this regard. “Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19). We look with longing eyes at these words of Jesus and lustily with sugary salivation welcome the words “a large tree.” For us big is better, just like the world has taught us to believe. We think, that means those with more academic degrees, bigger church buildings, bigger bank accounts, more visible media ministries, must be the ones with God’s kingdom blessing upon them! Sometimes, too frequently, nothing could be further from the truth.

We want BIG churches. Pastors question their call and value based on the size of their ministries or churches. The enemy batters them with feelings of inadequacy. And such feelings are reinforced by the church who says all pastors are valued but tips their hand as to how they really feel by only inviting pastors of BIG churches to be the speakers at their conferences. Have an inspired message for a book? Good luck finding a publisher to publish it. You need to guarantee them a BIG audience of potential buyers. This BIG mentality in the church is perilously close to crossing the line into Matthew 23 where Jesus had some very strong words for those He boldly and loudly called “Hypocrites!”

It doesn’t matter to us that there is no evidence of mega churches in the Bible! There are accounts of large numbers of conversions to Christ (e.g. Acts 2). But churches in the New Testament, (especially once Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah were kicked out of the synagogues) met in people’s homes (e.g. “from house to house” – Acts 2:46; cf. also Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). So, when we adopt a bigger is better mentality of the world and apply it to the church and ministry, we set ourselves up for some potential problems. We need to beware forcing a worldly deduction on the word of God.

When we see Jesus mention in His parable that in this version of “the kingdom of God”, “the birds of the air nested in its branches” it’s not really a pretty site. We have to go beyond the shallow thinking, Oh, isn’t that sweet, birds nesting in a big tree. Instead, we should look inductively at scripture to see what would be the most accurate interpretation based on God’s word. When we look in the biblical context, “birds” are most commonly used as symbols of evil. We see this in one of the patriarch Joseph’s interpretations of a chief baker’s dream (Genesis 40:19). We also see this interpretation in Jesus foundational Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:4; Luke 8:5, 11 and 12).

In the Word for Today Study Bible note from Pastor Chuck Smith on Luke 13:18-19 he states, “First of all, mustard doesn’t grow into trees. Mustard grows as a bush. So, the growth here was unnatural. And sometimes birds represent evil in the Bible. Therefore, Jesus was predicting the great growth of the church, but acknowledging it won’t all be good.” [1] This statement comes from someone who pastored a “mega church” for many years and who headed up the Calvary Chapel movement that now spans the globe with over 1600 churches worldwide and numerous radio stations and other forms of ministries. Pastor Chuck was known for quoting from Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” Pastor Chuck was one of the few pastors of larger type churches who was able to keep a humble perspective knowing that anything and everything that had been accomplished in Calvary Chapels was because “God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). Unfortunately, not every pastor is able or willing to keep such a humble perspective; and that is true of some Calvary Chapel’s too.

Big is not always better. It isn’t always necessarily bad. But it isn’t always good. In fact, when we look at scripture we see that God used the imagery of a big tree to describe Egypt which He assessed as having a proud “heart” that was “lifted up,” and to be full of “wickedness” (Ezekiel 31:10 and 11). Its’ a pretty stunning word from God against something that looked so great. We need to take a step back and make sure our churches and church leaders are not similarly guilty. We can be big and still be under the judgment of God.

Jesus followed His initial parable of God’s kingdom with mention of “leaven” (Luke 13:20-21). Leven appears around 98 times in scripture and every time it is used to represent evil. There is something wrong with the church today. We are not making the impact that we should. We are focused on building bigger more than making a bigger impact for the glory of God. We have a big tree mentality. That is bad.

Thankfully God gives grace to the humble. When we begin to prayerfully attend to God’s word and begin to consider and then experience the Holy Presence of God Almighty, it humbles us. Like Isaiah, if we come into God’s presence we will be convicted of our sinfulness and unworthiness before Holy God Almighty (Isaiah 6). When the Holy Spirit comes, He convicts us of sin (Jon 16:8-11). The closer we come to Jesus, the more clearly we see our sin. The closer we come to Jesus, the more power over our sin we will have. But much of the church cares little about moving closer to Jesus, unless doing so helps them get something bigger than what they already have. That’s leaven-likes. Much of the church cares little about their sin. And that has opened the door to proud big tree followers of Jesus, an oxymoron if ever there was one.

It is a position of humility that leads to all that we need in this life and the next. Humility is the window that opens the floodgates of God’s grace from above. We need to follow the route Jesus described as “the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24). This is the way of the word of God (cf. Matthew 7:24-27). Church authority and a pastor’s authority should not be gauged on the basis of merely the numbers of people who follow them on Facebook or radio or online or the size of their church or ministry. A church and pastor’s authority and legitimacy should be solely based on their adherence to scripture. “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). Truly the power and effectiveness, the eternal worth of a ministry is in proportion to its reliance on scripture. We need to get back to God’s word.

When Paul writes the church in Corinth and says, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2) it should be understood in the context of his preceding inspired words about not being duped and deceived by worldly wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:18-23). To be a faithful steward is to understand, “that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you” (1 Corinthians 3:16). The church should be concerned about being big in relying on the Holy Spirit rather than being another big tree.

The language of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Scriptures. The focus of the scriptures is Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:7). And the Jesus of scripture is all about the humbling redemptive work of Jesus on the cross (1 Corinthians 2:2) and His resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15). Paul was inspired to emphasize these truths to the church in Corinth which was a very carnal or self-serving selfish church (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1ff.). We should take that to heart. We don’t want to be a big carnal church. We want to be a Spirit-sized scripturally sound church.

I have a strong conviction that we are living in the End Times. Jesus wrote one of His seven letters to the End Times church at Philadelphia. Some have looked at Jesus words to those in the Philadelphia church describing them as having “a little strength,” and seen that as meaning they were spiritually anemic in some way. I would contend that Jesus description of this church as having a little strength put them in the most advantageous of positions.

I believe Jesus is making a positive statement about the Philadelphian church. It’s possible that Jesus is pointing out that the people of this church are aware that they have little strength on their own and are therefore more dependent on Jesus for their strength. If that is so, then this puts the Philadelphians in a great position to be empowered by God. The apostle Paul conveys this truth when he writes:

  • 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 - “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

This church was a kingdom of God type church, a spiritually perfect or mature and complete church because it didn’t rely on its own wisdom or resources, it didn’t devise gimmicks or programs or try to veil its weakness. No, it acknowledged its weakness and relied on the power of God. That’s what we especially need to do in our day; no matter the size of the church. The church at Philadelphia wasn’t trying to be a big tree in the forest of the world. They weren’t into fudging figures to market themselves as a big church. They weren’t relying on their bank account (or accounts) or their technology or their dress or their marketing schemes and five-year building plans. No, they simply, humbly, abandoned themselves to the will of God. 

The power of God is manifested in proportion to our awareness that we need to rely on Him. It’s not about being the biggest tree, it’s about being humbly reliant upon Thee. The Bible states, “Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5b-7). When we humbly admit our weaknesses to God and declare our dependence upon Him, it opens the flood gates of heaven for God to pour out His grace and power upon us. 

Are you relying on your own “strength” to get things done; your own wisdom and knowledge and ability? Do you pray? If not, you may be infected with the leaven of pride. Prayer is a declaration of dependence on God. A lack of prayer exposes our independence from God. Are you able to justify all you do in life and ministry by referencing God’s word? If someone asks you why you do something and where in the Bible is found a basis for what you are doing, can you give an accurately inductive and scripturally sound response? If not, there may just be some leaven in you and or your church. Are you depending on God’s power to sustain you and bring your victory? Do you look to the Holy Spirit to determine the size of your ministry or do you prefer a more corporate or market friendly model of the church? If so, you’re very possibly caught up in that big tree mentality. If these are the End Times, (and I believe they are) we need more than big trees, we need people and churches that are looking to Thee. Help us Lord to look beyond big trees to Thee.





[1] Chuck Smith, The Word for Today Bible, (Costa Mesa, CA: Word for Today Pub., 2012) p. 1347

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Roaring Adversary

1 Peter 5:8-14 – “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.11 To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.12 By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand.13 She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son.14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.” 

Do you see the snarling teeth of the adversary, his hate filled preying eyes? Can you hear his roar as he seeks to divide and conquer through hateful words? Do you see how he tries to lure his prey into his lair with deceptive lies, falsehoods, and half truths? Can you hear his growl and vicious roar in the tones and shouts of combustible conversation? Do you see how he separates people from truth through manipulation and propaganda? Do you see how he bates and entraps people, how he gets people out of their minds with anger and rage until they do things no sane person would normally do? Do you hear the whimpers and last wails of those he clutches with his claws? Do you hear their last breath leaving them? Can you see the hope drain from their eyes?   

The signs of this vicious predator are all around us. They are in the riots popping up on the streets of America. They are in the hateful shootings. They are in the fear fueled shootings. They are in our schools where dissenting voices are violently put down. They are in the bullying tactics of many who speak against bullying. They are in the political propaganda and the making of news rather than reporting news of the media. Wherever there are lies you can be sure the father of lies is at work (John 8:44). They are in the desire to win rather than to be righteous. They are in every instance of injustice and oppression. They are in every intolerant action to force people to tolerate sin. They are wherever persecution of the righteous is found. Wherever innocent life is snuffed out you can see the blood dripping from the predator's murderous jaws. The predator is leaving his mark on our streets, in our schools, at our work place, he is coming to our homes. His is marking his terror-tory. The adversary is prowling, he wants our children, he wants our elderly, he wants us, he will feed on us all; if we let him.

We are in a spiritual war, do you realize that? Satan is prowling around trying to intimidate with his roar those who seek to be used by God. Satan is looking for people he can feed on and use to nourish his evil plans (5:8). The enemy wants to hurt and inflict as much pain as possible. He lives for chaos and the destruction of the order of God's laws. He breathes hate and tries to shout down love. This is a spiritual war. Our adversary is invisible to the eye, but we see his foot print and hear his roar all around us. It can be scary.

But all of this is nothing new. Oh, because we are fast approaching the Last Days of this existence, we see the indications of a time "such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21). We pray for such times to be shortened (Matthew 24:22). We pray, "Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10) and "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" And only if "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all" will we survive this time (Revelation 22:20-21). But by His grace we will not only survive, we shall overcome! (cf. Revelation 12:11). And as we live on until His return we are given some survival instructions by the Apostle Peter. These instructions can keep us out of the reach of the enemy and even cage him. And even if he claws us a bit or gets a lick in on us, we can ward him off  with these precautions against our predator. What are they?

First, "be sober." "Sober" (Greek nepho) means to abstain from wine, be discreet, be watchful, be in control of your senses. The idea here is to be on the top of your game and not hindered or have your senses diminished in any way. A fighter entering the octagon doesn't down a few shots of liquor or get high on hallucinogens. No, to do so would be suicidal and almost certainly guarantee defeat. A fighter must be ready to fight and in full control of their senses. A fighter must not be clouded in mind or heart if they are to fight at their best. They need a clear mind and a plan of attack. And then they need faith and courage to do what they must do.

The same is true in spiritual warfare. There are a lot of things that can cloud our mind and heart and make us ineffective and vulnerable to enemy attack. Indulging in alcohol or other drugs can cloud our thinking. But sin in all its forms does this as well. A wrong relationship, a compromising situation, a less than honest or truthful action, a lowering of holy standards to live by, these and other things can make us drunk spiritually. If you're wobbling in worldliness sober up! There's a predator on the prowl for you.

Second, "be vigilant."  "Vigilant" (Greek gregoreuo) means to keep awake, watch, be vigilant, to give strict attention to something. The idea here is to be aware and awake to possible attack. In hockey a skater needs to skate with their head up even if they are carrying the puck because if they skate with their head down they make themselves vulnerable to a blind side hit. Hits received when one isn't looking are hits that hurt because we don't defend or brace ourselves against them. We need to be ready and watchful for the devil's strikes. Keep your head up. Know what's going on around you. Be informed politically, economically, socially and especially spiritually. Be vigilant against the lies an deceptions of the enemy. He's lurking in the weeds and he wants to pounce on you.

Third, be aware you are in a war - "because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." It is said that the roar of a lion is the loudest sound in the jungle. A lion's roar can be heard from miles away. When you go to the zoo you can hear this. And the lion roars because he is hungry! He wants to "devour" (Greek katapino) or to drink down, gulp whole, swallow up. He wants to devour you. He wants to drink you down and swallow you whole. The devil wants to feast on you. Don't let him do it? Be aware of his tactics. Be aware of his presence.  

Understand something here. The devil "walks around" from place to place; he is not omnipresent. He has to rely on demons to extend his reach. He is not equal with God. He is fallen. He is defeatable. He is, in fact, defeated. Jesus publically for all to see defeated this devil enemy and all of his pride. Jesus did this at the cross (Colossians 2:15). You have no more need to fear the adversary. Listen, 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). The lion still roars, and he is still scary, but when you take a closer look you see he's toothless and declawed. We're in a war, but the outcome is already decided, and we in Christ are victorious (Romans 8:37-39).

Fourth, "resist him" the devil. "Resist" (Greek anthistemi) means to stand against, oppose, withstand. It means to put up a fight. Don't give up! Don't let down! Stand in the strength of the Lord and fight this prowler! (cf. Eph. 6:10-18). With every resource of God and fiber of your being fight the enemy. Be a part of God's resistance force.

Fifth, be "steadfast in the faith.”  “Steadfast” (Greek stereos) means, stable, sure, strong, sturdy, immovable, solid, hard, rigid. The basis of our steadfastness is "the faith." This means our personal faith in the Lord. But it also refers to "the faith" of the gospel in particular and God's word as a whole. The enemies' strategy is two pronged. First he want to get you to doubt God's word (e.g. Genesis 3). Then he wants to get you separated; separated from God; and separated from the flock of God and "the faith." If he can isolate you from fellowship and God's word then you're easy prey for him. Be stable, sure and strong in the shoulder to shoulder battle lines of God's army. Be immovable from the truth of God. Be rigidly committed and loyal to Jesus. Do this and you will effectively ward off enemy attacks.

Sixth, know you're not alone or that such spiritual attacks are unique to you - "that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world." No testing or trial is unique to us. Everyone is under attack in some way. But God is faithful and won't allow us to be attacked beyond what we are able. God sets the parameters of battle and limits to what the enemy can do (e.g. Job 1-2). The Holy Spirit will show us an effective response strategy so that we can escape and continue to stand against the enemy (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13).

Seventh, depend on "the God of all grace." Jesus is the Commander of the Lord's Army (e.g. Joshua 5). Paul was inspired to write that all he was could be attributed to God's grace working in and through him (1 Cor. 15:10). That must be our understanding and assertion too. Depend on God's grace and the provision of His grace. Nothing more is needed. Nothing less will help us succeed to victory. We follow a gracious, wise and powerful Commander.

Eighth, remember your calling - "who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus." We are called and commissioned by God to reach a final destination of being with Him in glory. Our mandate from Him is to come to Him and to bring as many other lost souls with us as possible. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. We need to follow our Commander in this mission; a Great Commission (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). Our calling is manifested in Jesus and His ministry that testifies to the glorious provision of God.

Ninth, understand your suffering is temporary - "after you have suffered for a while." No matter how bad the enemy attacks become or how serious and severe our suffering becomes, it will end. Satan's attacks are limited to this life and even in this life they are transient and temporary. God sets limits to devilish attacks and suffering. God is merciful. So no matter how bad the political, economic or societal climate becomes, our hope is in Him not politics, money, peace officers or the military. This world is not our home. We are heavenly citizens. While we live here we need to be good citizens of the country God has sovereignly placed us in. But our yes and heart need to be fixed on Him. Everything we do in this life needs to be directed by eternal life. Suffering now only reminds us of the blessedness of heaven with Christ to come. And for that we give Him glory.

Tenth, understand what good God can bring in and through you from such spiritual warfare and suffering - God will "perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you." "Perfect" (Greek katartidzo) means to thoroughly complete us. God uses trials and spiritual warfare to make us what we need to be in order to do what He calls us to do. God uses suffering and trials to test us in order to finish what was begun in us, to bring us to maturity or completion.

"Establish" (Greek steridzo) means to turn resolutely in a certain direction, to confirm, to strengthen. Faith is like a muscle and for a muscle to grow in strength it must be tested and exercises. Trials are a workout for our faith. It is in the battle that we learn to stay true to the Lord and where we learn the reliability and reality of God's truth.

"Strengthen" (Greek sthenoo) means to strengthen, build vigor, give vitality. God brings us through trials with an awareness of the energy and power He supplies. I hate to quote an atheist, but what Friedrich Nietzsche said is true, "That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger."  [1]We become stronger in our faith and relationship with God as we see the truth that God is right and just and faithful; that all God has told us in His word is reliable and true. That is confidence building. And that will have old atheist Neitzsche rolling over in his grave. Ha! Good.

"Settle" (Greek themelioo) means to lay a basis, to erect, to consolidate, to ground, to settle. The idea is the setting of a firm foundation. God will bring us through trials in a way that sets in place a firm and reliably sturdy foundation for our faith. A faith untested cannot be trusted. But a faith tested true can be trusted.

Eleventh, give God glory - "To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." Peter wrote this epistle to exhort the persecuted pilgrim to keep their focus on God and give Him glory no matter what. We can weather the storms of life and anything the devil and his minions throw at us if we will just keep our eyes of faith on the Lord. Our worship unites us and encourages us. This is our battle cry is - "To Him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!" Like the old hymn of Fanny Crosby we go into battle singing, "To God be the glory, great things He has done. So loved He the world that He gave us His Son, Who yielded His life an atonement for sin, and opened the life-gate that all may go in." [2] Praise the Lord!

Twelfth, stand in God's grace - " By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand."If we try to stand in our own strength we will be reduced to unsteady steps like an aging senior relying on a walker. Apart from God's grace we are easy prey. But by His grace we throw away the walker and run to victory. God's grace is always sufficient for whatever we encounter in life (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). That is the hope we have in Him.

In the final verses Peter points to Silvanus as the faithful carrier of this letter which contains “the true grace of God in which you stand” (5:12). In verse 13 Peter speaks of “she who is in Babylon, elect together with you.” There is no evidence that Peter ever went to Babylon. This is likely a reference to the church that is in Rome. Whatever the case, "Babylon" in scripture is a symbol of everything that opposes God. We are living in a Babylonish age and a Babylonish land. All the more reason to apply these last battle plans provided us by Peter.

Peter closes with a reference to his spiritual son Mark and an urging to greet one another with a holy kiss of love, which was a culturally acceptable practice in his day. Love and unity in our ranks are essential to our cause. An army divided against itself is weak and vulnerable. A united army under an Awesome Commander like our Jesus, in Him, is unconquerable. All of this aims at fulfilling Peter's last benedictory prayer of, “Peace be to you all who are in Christ Jesus.” The world claims it wants peace. But there is no peace if the devilish lion is allowed to go on roaring. We need to shut the lion's mouth. There's a bumper sticker that says, “No Jesus – No Peace; Know Jesus – Know Peace.” There is no hope for peace with an equation for peace that doesn't have Jesus as part of the solution. Peter opened his first letter with the words, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith  for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5). In light of that we might create another bumper sticker that adds, “No Jesus – No Hope; Know Jesus – Know Hope.” We have peace in Christ because of the living hope that He puts in us. May we take hold of our victory in Him. It's time to shut the lion's mouth. Amen!



[1] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/friedrichn101616.html
[2] To God Be the Glory, by Fanny Crosby (1820-1915), Worship in Song Hymnal, (Kansas City, Missouri: Lillenas Pub. Company) 1972. Hymn #3.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

For Michael


Michael Seth Goldberg 5/12/43 – 10/2/2017

Psalm 32

Psalm 32:1-2, 5-7, 11

A Psalm of David. A Contemplation.

1    Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,

Whose sin is covered.

2    Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,

And in whose spirit there is no deceit.

 

5    I acknowledged my sin to You,

And my iniquity I have not hidden.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”

And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Selah

6    For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You

In a time when You may be found; . . .

7    You are my hiding place;

You shall preserve me from trouble;

You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.

Selah

11  Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous;

And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

 

Proverbs 10:22 (NKJV)

22  The blessing of the Lord makes one rich,

And He adds no sorrow with it.

 

Proverbs 11:25 (NKJV)

25  The generous soul will be made rich,

And he who waters will also be watered himself.

 

Proverbs 13:4 (NKJV)

4    The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing;

But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.

 

Matthew 16:24–26 (NKJV)

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

 

Matthew 5:4 (NKJV)

          Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 

1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NKJV)

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.

I can only imagine the exclamations of wonder that Michael must have uttered upon his transition from this life into the presence of his Lord. I can hear him say, "Wowwwww!" And I know the moment he stepped into heaven that he instantly would feel that it was worth it all; nothing in this this world, no pain or suffering compares with the glory of his new existence. And that existence is eternal. 

Michael and I liked to spend time together. We’d go out to eat. But we especially enjoyed going on long car rides after we ate. We’d just take in the scenery of Long Island and shoot the breeze. We went to Israel together on a number of occasions and that was fantastic. But there was something special about our conversation rides. We'd discuss everything. We'd debate things and walk around them considering various alternate views.

Michael enjoyed playing “devil’s advocate,” in a good sort of way. He loved to just poke you to think outside the box. The debate would be on, the banter back and forth. Then we’d come to an end and he'd cock his head, smile with his impish smile and say, "We're not that far apart." It was great fun. 

On a number of our rides we discussed what he wanted me to say about him at his memorial service. He made sure to exhort me to give all glory to God. And I do; when I think of Michael I give glory to God for so many blessings.

As we talked it through he boiled his life-summary down to these words:

 "I was blessed all my life. All my blessings came from God. And I tried to share them to bless others. I know I was touched by God. I felt if I was loyal to God He'd be loyal to me."

Michael was a rich, wealthy man. He was very blessed. 

Michael was blessed intellectually. 

Michael was cerebral. He was one of the smartest most intelligent men I've ever known. He loved to talk about history and learning from it. He could break down complicated information to bite size and digestible pieces so for us to understand. He was a wealth of knowledge.

Michael used to laugh about how when at Hofstra he would enroll in a degree area and learn it, but just before he’d graduate he’d change majors so he could learn some more. Michael loved to learn. To him learning was like a Thanksgiving Feast and he was always ready to dig in.

There wasn't a subject Michael didn't know something about. And there wasn't a subject he didn't have an opinion on. (And he didn’t shy away from letting you know his opinion.) It was intellectually invigorating to talk with Michael. He loved to banter. He loved to discuss; to be asked questions and to ask questions. Michael had fun learning and he made learning fun for others. 

Michael was blessed materially. 

Michael was never married and lived single his entire life. He was blessed in his occupations. He was a good steward of his material gains. He invested well over the years. He became wealthy. But Michael was an extremely generous man. He didn’t hoard his wealth. Quite the contrary. I remember him telling me early on that his ambition was to give all his wealth away.

Michael blessed countless people paying for their education, general practical needs, trips to Israel, computers, cars, clothes, just about anything you can imagine. If ever he found someone in need he wanted to help them. He was on a mission to spend all his money before he died. I know I was blessed by him. I think everyone who knew Michael was in some way blessed by him. 

Michael wasn't afraid of being taken advantage of. He knew it was part of the risk of helping others. Don't get me wrong, he didn't like being taken advantage of, but I don't think he lost too much sleep over it either. He preferred, I think, to enjoy the great amount of doing good that he did. He loved to help people to have things they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to have. He enjoyed blessing people in a way they could go places and see things that otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to experience.

Giving was Michael’s joy and purpose in life - he was really big on living with purpose; eternal purpose. He embodied and lived, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts. 20:35b). That was his reward in this life. He'd deflect credit or compliments giving glory to God. But you could see helping others was where he got the most if his satisfaction in life. He was blessed and was such a blessing. 

Michael was blessed socially. 

Michael met many famous people in his life:

 "Just a sample" he said:

 
·        Charlton Heston – he said he was tall

·        Zsa Zsa Gabor – he said she was a wonderful woman.

·        Eleanor Roosevelt – he said she was smart

·        Clifton Webb

·        William Shatner – he said he was Captain Kirk

·        Leonard Nimoy – He said he was Spock

·        Picard - Patrick Stewart – He said he was the new Captain of the Enterprise

·        Francis Nugent

·        Carey grant

·        Presidents - Jimmy Carter; Ronald Reagan; both Bushes; Bill Clinton

 

Michael was a very discerning man. He was able to accurately assess people. And there were times when he’d voice his opinion of people whether they wanted to hear it or not. And then there were times when he’d just let it go. Relationally he knew how to press the envelope, how to press buttons, but also how to respect boundaries.

Michael had a great sense of humor. He would tease and goad you into a "discussion" and then impishly smile at you. Michael was great fun to be around. 

Michael loved people. He lived interacting with people. He would strike up a conversation and talk with anybody and everybody. He’d ask young people about their goals in life. Michael had a tremendous heart for young people. Michael genuinely cared for people. That’s just the way he was. His heart to help overcame differences.

Michael had a great compassion for people. He had a redemptive spirit that reached out to help people in need. He was always looking to redeem those the world discarded.

Michael believed in investing in people. He believed in the importance of education. He paid for a lot of people’s education. He encouraged people to do their best and become their best. He was repulsed by laziness and just wouldn’t accept that some people, as far as he could see, were wasting their lives. Michael loved life itself and he loved to live it.

Michael hated conflict between those he loved. He was reconciler in that regard. He would defend people against accusation. He wanted there to be peace and acceptance between people. He loved and wanted others to learn to love too. In one sense Michael loved to argue. But in another sense, he hated arguments.

Michael was a great, great friend. 

 On our last ride together I asked Michael, “Michael, do you need anything?” He paused and said, “No.” Then he reached over and put his hand on my arm and said, “I have you.” That’s my favorite memory of Michael. That will stick with me for the rest of my life. Michael had a way of making you feel special. Michael was a great, great friend.

Michael was blessed spiritually. To him this was the most important part. 

Michael was "touched by God." I believe that. He told me of encounters he had with God. He had a real personal relationship with God. He could relate to the experience of the Apostle Paul (Acts 9). He had a passion for others to experience that too. If you talked with Michael you know it wasn't long before he would swing the discussion to the things of God and salvation. That was true wherever he went: in a diner; in a store; in the hospital; to a waitress, a nurse, an intern or doctor. He didn't care how uncomfortable it made you feel, he was going to tell you about His Lord and how important it was for you to know Him too. Michael was fantastically consistent in that way. 

 Michael had a strong sense of what God wanted him to do. 

 The Lord used Michael to speak to me about certain things. I learned to take his suggestions seriously. Michael was a wealth of wisdom. He was very perceptive. I’m going to miss his input. He made me a better pastor. He respected me as a pastor. He respected me as a brother, as a friend. He made me a better person; a better human being.

Michael was always asking about how the church was going and what he could do to help. He was always ready to meet a need. He had a servant’s heart; he was always interested in helping. He loved to teach and was a great teacher. He taught in our school of ministry and we often spoke about him teaching a class on the major and minor prophets. (He's probably got their ear right now). He loved to help open people's eyes about the importance of the Old Testament and how the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. 

I asked Michael what his favorite parts of the Bible were. He said:

 
·        Genesis 12

·        Exodus 19

·        Matthew 5-7 (Beatitudes) 

He told me: "I like the entire Bible. You have to read the whole Bible to get the whole story. I like it all." 

I met Michael when he began attending a Tuesday night men's group at our church. We read through books in the group and had open discussions about their contents. And let me tell you, when Michael joined that group, the fervor and fire, depth and detail, the challenge and honest considerations of all sides of a matter were turned up more than a notch. Trying to facilitate and oversee those "discussions" felt a lot like a rodeo at times; even a three-ring circus! But we had a lot of fun. It was such a blessing. We saw Michael transformed right before our eyes. We saw Michael's thought process. We saw Michaels heart process. We saw the Lord work in Michael. Michael added so much to those groups. And as we spent more time with Michael, the Lord used him in our lives too.


I would be delinquent in my friendship to Michael and duties as his pastor if I did not clearly share that Michael accepted Jesus as his Savior-Messiah (his Yeshua Hamashiach). Michael did not make this decision lightly or without research and personal study and prayer. He became a student again. He weighed the facts. He enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary and took classes, (which he especially loved), by Robert Chisolm. Many, many times we discussed the issue in my office. He had many, many questions (you can only imagine.) Michael never left his Jewish identity. He felt knowing Jesus enhanced not diminished his Jewishness. He loved the Lord with all his heart. There was nothing he wouldn't do for the Lord. The Lord greatly enlarged his sense of mission in life. 
 
As Michael grew in his faith the time came when I asked him to fill in for me and deliver the message at a Sunday morning service. That’s no small responsibility and I don’t take such a responsibility lightly. But I knew Michael had a message to share. And I knew what he had to share, what the Lord put on his heart, was something we needed to hear. When I gave Michael the opportunity to fill in for me one Sunday, the title of his message was, “We serve a Holy, Holy, Holy God.” 


Michael had a great passion for the holiness of God and being reverent toward God. Michael had a very serious side to him.

A concept that had impressed him even from his youth via Cecille B. Demille’s production of The Ten Commandments with actor Charlton Heston, and then more accurately and thoroughly when he learned more was the holiness of God. In his message he cites a favorite verse, “Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11). He further cited the inspired words, “They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested’” (Revelation 15:3-4). Those verses are a testimony of Michael’s view of God. Indeed, the name “Michael” means who is like God? Michael loved that about his name.

Michael had a great passion for the holiness of God and being reverent toward God. Michael had a very serious side to him. He used to get really riled up about people wearing hats in church or acting irreverently. The sanctuary was holy ground to him. He came to understand grace toward others in that area, but you could tell it still irked him. He was a defender of God but would never mean to imply God in some way needed defending. He was a proponent of the things of God. Michael had a real sense of the presence of God and what holiness entailed.

Michael lived to glorify God. He would never accept credit or a compliment without deflecting the glory to God. He believed anonymous works in this life became accumulated dividends in the next. Michael was rich in this life, but he is far wealthier in the next because of the way he lived. 

Michael is with the Lord now. I'm sure when he met the Lord he was welcomed with the words, "well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord." Michael loved much and was loved much. We can learn a lot about living from Michael's life. Maybe that's his greatest contribution. Michael, we will miss you. But as we look at your life we learn a way to help us not grieve as those who have no hope. We grieve, but our hope in Christ is to one day be reunited in the joy of the Lord. I pray it's soon. 

Revelation 14:13 (NKJV)

13 Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”