Day Three:  Saints and Faithful in Christ Jesus

Day Three: Saints and Faithful in Christ Jesus

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Uh, Sorry.  We Don’t Do Saints in Our Church

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus:
Ephesians 1:1b

“Saints.  Really?  That sounds kinda Catholic to me.”  And for many, it does.

But the term “saints” seems to be God’s go-to description for those He redeems and calls to Himself.  In fact, Paul uses this term to identify those he addresses in his letters.  For example, in Romans, he writes, “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7).  In the same manner, he addresses those in Corinth as “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2).  And he repeats this pattern in his letters to the churches in Philippi (Phil. 1:1), Colossae (Col. 1:2), and Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1).

By addressing believers as saints, Paul reminds them, and us, of the reality of our new identity in Christ.  Being deemed a saint is not a status earned through good works or perfect behavior, nor is it a title given by a religious body to commemorate some meritorious act, but it’s a descriptive designation God bestows on His children by grace.  It’s how He sees us— no matter how much we may have lived un-saintly lives or how we have grieved His Spirit (Eph. 4:30).  This designation as a saint reminds us we are no longer defined by our past sins or failures, but by our relationship with Christ and the righteousness He imparts to us (1 Cor. 5:21).


But What is a Saint (hágios)?

In the New Testament, the Greek word translated as “saints” is “hágios,” and carries the meaning of being “holy, set apart, and dedicated to God.”  It is not a title limited to a select few who achieved some higher level of spiritual excellence, performed miracles, or made great sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel, but it refers to all believers who are set apart for God’s purposes.  Being called a saint implies we are consecrated and dedicated to God, and reflect His holiness in our lives (or at least, we should be reflecting the holiness of God in the way we live.  But we’ll address ‌sanctification at a later time).

In Ephesians 1:1, Paul uses this term to remind those in Ephesus of their unique identity in Christ— not by defining them by what they were, but by who they are now (1 Cor. 6:19).  And as saints, they in Ephesus, and we today, are called to live in a way that honors God by demonstrating His character in our daily lives.  Remember, this life of holiness is not something we achieve on our own (because we can’t), but it is made possible only through the work of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Note the operative word: holy— as in Holy Spirit.  Our holiness is simply a reflection of the Holy Spirit who now lives in us.


The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Central to our identity as saints is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, which is one of the most amazing things about this life with Christ.  In Ephesians 1:13-14, Paul writes,

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with (what) the Holy Spirit of promise, (described as) who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

The moment we believe and regeneration takes place, the Holy Spirit makes His home within us, marking us as God’s own, and acting as a seal and guarantee of our eternal inheritance in Christ.  This seal signifies ownership, security, and authenticity.  It is a divine guarantee of our future inheritance in God’s kingdom, a promise that we will one day fully partake in the blessings of eternal life with Him.

The Spirit’s presence in our lives is not a passive reality, but an active, transformative power that allows us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).  The Spirit guides us into all truth (John 16:13), empowers us to live righteously (Gal. 5:16), and produces spiritual fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23).  And as saints, we must learn to walk in step with the Spirit (Rom. 8:14), yielding to His leading and allowing Him to give us the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

And the presence of the Holy Spirit is not just a future promise, but a present reality that empowers us to live holy lives, as saints, right now (which is the essence of the Higher Christian Life).  For without the Holy Spirit, there is no salvation (Rom. 8:9), for it is the Spirit who brings about the new birth and sustains us in our faith journey.


Saints Are Faithful, Like the Ones in Ephesus

As saints, we are called to live lives characterized by faithfulness to God.  The church in Ephesus serves as a model in this regard.  In Revelation 2:1-7, Jesus commends the Ephesian church for their diligence, perseverance, and discernment, while also exhorting them to return to their first love.  This passage highlights key aspects of faithfulness that we should see growing in our own lives.

First, faithfulness involves diligence in our spiritual walk.  We must be committed to growing in our knowledge of God’s Word, engaging in fervent and frequent prayer, and actively participating in the life of His church.  These spiritual disciplines have defined a faithful believer since the Book of Acts and still do today.

Second, faithfulness requires perseverance in the face of trials and challenges.  As saints, we will inevitably face opposition and hardships (it comes with the territory – 2 Tim. 3:12), but we must remain steadfast in our faith, trusting in God’s goodness and sovereignty, no matter what.  After all, trusting Him when we’re flying blind and can’t see tomorrow is the best way to have your faith tested and grow (Jas. 1:2-4).

Third, faithfulness demands discernment— like big time.  We must be able to clearly distinguish between truth and error by holding fast to sound doctrine and rejecting false teachings that would lead us astray.  Remember, Jesus said the primary sign of His soon return would be deception.  Read it for yourself in Matthew 24.

Finally, faithfulness is rooted in our love for God and for others.  Jesus called this love the two greatest commandments, and it should flow from a heart wholly devoted to His and seeking to extend His love to those around us.

“‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these” – Mark 12:30-31.


So Let’s Pray

As we embrace our identity as saints (even if it still makes us feel a bit uncomfortable), let us continue to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2).  May we daily surrender to the leading of the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to transform us from the inside out.  And may we, like the church in Ephesus, be known for our unwavering devotion to Christ and our commitment to living out His truth in a world that desperately needs to see the light of the Gospel, no matter how difficult that may be in the days ahead.

Dear Father,
I come before You with a heart full of gratitude for the incredible privilege of being called Your saint.  Thank You for setting me apart for Your purposes and filling me with Your Holy Spirit.  I am humbled by the knowledge that Your Spirit dwells within me, sealing me as Your own and guaranteeing my future inheritance in Christ.

Lord, I desire to live a life that reflects my identity as a saint.  Help me to be faithful in my walk with You, just as the church in Ephesus was faithful.  Strengthen my commitment to prayer, so that I may communicate with You daily and align my heart with Your will.  Grant me the grace to obey Your Word, living out Your commandments with joy and faithfulness.

Fill my heart with Your love, so that I may love You with all my heart, soul, and mind, and love my neighbor as myself.  Lord, please inspire me to serve others selflessly, following the example of Your Son, who came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45).  Empower me to be a bold witness for You, sharing the good news of Your truth with those around me.  And let my life be a testimony to Your transformative power and grace.

Father, I ask that You draw me closer to You each day.  Continually remind me of my identity as Your holy one, and help me live in a manner worthy of Your calling.  May my faithfulness bring glory to Your name and advance Your kingdom here on earth.

I pray all this in the precious name of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.

Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

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Day Two:  Transformed Completely by the Will of God

Day Two: Transformed Completely by the Will of God

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Zero to Hero on a Dusty Road

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,
Ephesians 1:1a

As we embark on this adventure in prayer and the study of the book of Ephesians, let’s begin by looking at the person God chose to write this letter and evangelize the known world at that time.  His name is Paul, formerly Saul— whom the Lord designated as an apostle of His Son, Jesus Christ.

There is much to learn about this simple change of names and, more importantly, the change of identity that accompanies the new name.  And the transformation we see in Paul is the same transformation that occurred in you— if you know Christ and have experienced true regeneration and salvation.  But more on that later.

In the opening few words of his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (Eph. 1:1a).  Note that this transformation was by the will of God and not based on the strength of Paul’s personality, his own merit or hard work, nor his ambition, education, family background, or career choice.  It was by God and God alone— because only God has the power to transform lives and use individuals for His divine purposes like He did Paul and countless others throughout church history.  Paul’s life is a living testament to this.  Once he was Saul, a violent persecutor of the early church and an enemy of Christ.  Then, in a blinding light, he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  And now, everything changed (read it for yourself in Acts 9:1-19).  As Mary Magdelene from the series The Chosen said when she was trying to explain her transformation to Nicodemus:

“I was one way— and now I am completely different, And the thing that happened in between was Him.”

This is what happened to Paul, and to each of us who Christ has changed.


From Saul to Paul or From Darkness to Light

Saul was a zealous Pharisee who dedicated his life to upholding Jewish law and tradition.  It was his passion, and therefore, he saw the early Christians as a threat to his beliefs and actively sought to silence them through persecution, imprisonment, and, ultimately, death.  However, God had other plans for Saul.  In a blinding moment of revelation and truth, all orchestrated by God and when Saul least expected it (which is often how the Lord works), Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and confronted him with the truth he had so vehemently rejected (Acts 9:1-9).  This encounter marked the beginning of Saul’s transformation into Paul, who became one of the most influential Christians and an example to all.  He became a missionary, evangelist, church planter, apologist, and the writer of most of the New Testament.

But what happened to Paul was not an isolated event.  God is still in the business of changing lives, even yours— if you would surrender your life to Him.  But once again, we’ll talk more about that later.


What Does it Mean For Us Today?

Paul’s story is a reminder that no one, including you and me, is beyond the reach of God and His wondrous grace.  Just as God changed a violent persecutor of the church into a committed proclaimer of the Gospel, He can also transform our lives, no matter how messed up we have made them, and use us for His glory.  All throughout history, we see examples of ordinary people, like you and me, who experienced the extraordinary, life-changing touch of God:

   Augustine of Hippo was once driven by worldly ambitions and desires (he was actually a pretty nasty dude), and became the most influential theologian during the early history of the church and penned such classics as “The City of God” and “Confessions.”

   There was John Bunyan, once a profane and blasphemous man, who became a preacher and the author of the Christian classic “The Pilgrim’s Progress” after he encountered Christ.

   Then consider John Newton, a former slave trader who encountered God’s grace and became a minister, abolitionist, and the author of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.”

   Mary Magdalene was a woman once possessed by seven demons (Mark 16:9), who became a devoted follower of Christ and the first witness to His resurrection after she encountered Jesus and He freed her from her bondage.

   And don’t forget Chuck Colson, a former political operative involved in the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration, who found redemption in Christ while in prison and founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry dedicated to transforming lives behind bars.

   One of my favorites, Corrie ten Boom, was a humble Dutch watchmaker who the Nazis imprisoned for helping Jews escape to freedom. After the war, and after experiencing the horrors of life in a concentration camp, she traveled the world sharing her story of forgiveness and God’s unending love, touching countless lives (including mine).

   And finally, there is you. That’s right, you (put your name here ______________ ).  You were once one way before Christ came into your life and now, by His grace and the redeeming power of the Spirit, you are someone new.

And your life is just as valuable to God as those we have listed above.  All you need to do is place your new life in His hands like those heroes who have gone before us have done.  The rest, as they say, is up to Him.


Our God is the God of Second and Third (and More) Chances

These stories, along with countless others, demonstrate that God’s transformative power knows no boundaries.  He can take our broken pasts, our failures, our weaknesses, and what we are most ashamed of, and shape them into something beautiful for His kingdom.  In fact, He can do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).  All He is waiting on is for us to ask.  So do that today.

If you find yourself feeling unworthy or too far gone and beyond the reach of God’s love and grace, remember the story of Paul.  No matter your background or the mistakes you’ve made (or are still making), God sees you through the lens of His unconditional love.  He has a plan and purpose for your life, always has, and He desires to transform you from the inside out and conform you to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).

Remember the encouraging words from Paul:

Therefore, if anyone (put your name here) is in Christ, he (and here) is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new – 2 Corinthians 5:17.

This is His goal for you.  It always has been— and always will be.


Self-Examination and Prayer

As we reflect on God’s transformative power, let’s examine our own lives.  Think, are there areas where we need to surrender to God’s will and allow Him to work in us?  Are we open to the changes He wants to make in our hearts and minds?  Take a moment to pray and invite God to reveal His purpose for your life.  Ask Him to guide you and grant you the courage to follow His lead (and to let you know His perfect will for you), even when it means stepping out of your comfort zone and doing what may seem frightening or impossible.  This is how faith grows (see Hebrews 11).


So Let’s Pray

Be sure to make your prayer personal, just between you and your Father.

Dear Father,
I come to You today, thanking You for transforming Saul into Paul and me into the image of Your Son, just like You promised.  I cannot thank You enough for Your grace, mercy, and unconditional love.  Thank You for Paul’s example, who reminds me that no one is beyond the reach of Your grace including, and especially, me.  I pray You will continue to work in my life, molding me into the person You have called me to be.

Give me the courage to surrender my life to Your will, trusting that Your plans for me are good and perfect.  Help me to embrace the changes You want to make in my heart and mind, even when it means stepping out of my comfort zone.  And Lord, when I am tempted to return to my old habits and mindset and way of life, remind me of who I am in You.

I pray for those who may feel unworthy or think they are too far gone from Your love to ever return to You.  Remind them of Your unconditional grace and the transformative power of Your presence in their lives.  And use me, Lord, as an instrument of Your love and truth.  May my life be a testament to the work You have done in me, and may I be a light to those who are searching for hope and purpose.

I ask all these things in the precious name of Jesus.  Amen.

Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

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Day One:  Praying Through the Book of Ephesians

Day One: Praying Through the Book of Ephesians

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Small Beginnings Lead to Great Endings

As we pray through the marvelous book of Ephesians, I want to give us an overview of some truths in this first chapter that will literally change your life.  The book of Ephesians is something you could spend your entire life studying, and still not discover all God has hidden in its pages.  It is magnificent, speaking to the very core of our being as believers in Christ, and it has an inexhaustible supply of spiritual truths and revelations that are so needed today.

As an overview, early in chapter one, we encounter a grand display of God’s sovereignty revealed by His choosing us, in Him, before the foundation of the world.  We see this in verses 3 through 6, where it says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved – Ephesians 1:3-6.

Next, this amazing chapter ends with the proclamation of the power and might of our wonderful Lord where the Holy Spirit proclaims that God placed Jesus “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21).  And as you will see later in this study, “principality and power and might and dominion” not only refers to earthly kings and kingdoms, but more specifically, demonic kingdoms (Eph. 3:10; Col. 2:10).  But we will unpack these amazing truths later.

And finally, the chapter is stuffed full of graduate-level discussions of the church, the body of Christ, and the power that rests with the church because of Christ.  In today’s turbulent times, I can’t think of anything more important than for the church to understand the power we have because of our risen Savior and Lord (Eph. 1:22-23; Matt. 16:18-19).  This is a topic we will spend some time trying to fully understand in order to be the salt and light we are commanded and empowered to be (Matt. 5:13-16).  But once again, we’ll have to wait a bit before we feast on this life-changing truth.

As you can see, there is so much for us to discover as we strive to grow into the likeness of Christ (Eph. 4:22-24).  And this is only the beginning.


Asking Important Questions

One skill I hope each of us will gain during our study is the ability to ask simple questions of the text and feel comfortable doing so.  These questions do not lead to doubt, but they allow us to dig a little deeper into what the text says and means, rather than settle for just scratching the surface.

You may recognize many of these questions from high school English, if you were paying attention, which I wasn’t (which means I had to learn this later in life, which is always harder.  Ahem).  They are what we call the who, what, when, where, why, how, and my favorite, to what extent types of questions. What we find when we ask questions of the text is that the macro (large, expansive) view becomes the micro (small, detailed, specific) view, and we are better able to grasp, understand, and internalize more of what the word of God is saying.  And we can do all of this without additional study and resources by just asking a few questions.

Let me give you an example of Ephesians 1:3-6, which are the verses we looked at earlier.  But now, let’s look at them and ask a few clarifying questions.

Blessed be (who) the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has (what) blessed (who) us with (what) every spiritual blessing (where) in the heavenly places (how) in Christ, just as (who) He (what) chose (who) us (how) in Him (when) before the foundation of the world, (why) that we should be (what) holy and without blame before (who) Him (how) in love, having (what) predestined (who) us to (what) adoption as sons (how) by Jesus Christ to (who) Himself, (why) according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He (what) made us accepted (by whom) in the Beloved – Ephesians 1:3-6.

Now read these few verses again, slowly, intentionally emphasizing the questions and the answers that naturally follow the questions.  Can you feel the impact of this passage more than you did when you simply read it to yourself?  Do you see how the Lord provides for us, in the text, the answers to the questions we ask?  And can you experience the conversation, your questions and His answers, by just reading His Word with new eyes?  I sure can.  And I hope you will learn to do so as well.


What it Says, What it Means

One final thought before we pray and close out this first day.  It is one thing to casually read a portion of the Scriptures, focusing on what you understand and skipping words or themes you are unfamiliar with.  But it is quite another thing to take your time and truly meditate on what the Lord is trying to say to each of us in His Word.  This process takes time, and obviously some work.  But the benefits are so incredible they make the added effort well worth the time.  (Note: take a moment and see what the Lord says about meditating on His Word versus simply reading it.  For once you do, you’ll never be satisfied with just reading it again.  But this is something you need to discover for yourself.  Don’t take my word for it).

For example, in the passage cited above, there are a few words and concepts that need better understanding before we can comprehend and fully appreciate what the Lord is saying to us as we pray through His Word.

Let me list just a few.

•   What are the blessings God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ have blessed us with?
•   What does the phrase, “every spiritual blessing” actually mean?
•   And where are the “heavenly places” where we receive these blessings?
•   What does the phrase “in Christ” mean?  We see it many times in the New Testament, but is there a deeper meaning to this phrase than we may know?
•   How did God choose us “in Him” before the “foundation of the world”?  What did He choose us for?  And on what basis did He choose us?
•   And it appears the phrase, “according to the good pleasure of His will” means “because He wanted to” or “because He felt like it.”  Is that true?  Or is there something I’m missing?

I hope you are as excited about this adventure through Ephesians as I am.  Together, we will mine the deep truths of this letter and turn it back to the Lord in prayer.  And who knows what God plans to do with each of us during this process?


So Let’s Pray

As we go to the Lord in prayer, we’re going to make each prayer personal, in first person.  That way, we can’t hide behind the “we ask You to forgive us of our sins” type of prayer.  But, “I ask You to forgive me of my sins.”  I hope you see the difference.

So make this prayer your own and pray from your heart.

Dear Lord,
Thank You so much for the freedom I have to read Your Word and talk with You in prayer.  And Lord, as I embark on this journey in prayer through Your book of Ephesians, will You help me grow closer to You and understand the amazing truths You are going to reveal to me in this study?  I literally can’t wait.

Please help me stay committed to this time with You and not let anything, especially the enemy and my flesh, keep me from this appointed time of prayer and study.  I humbly ask for Your guidance and wisdom in everything.

Would You open my heart and mind to receive the deep truths and revelations hidden within these pages?  And help me approach Your Word with a spirit of curiosity, freely asking questions and seeking to understand the full meaning of each verse.  And then, once You have revealed Your truth to me, please change me into the image of Your Son as I embrace the truth of Your Word.

I pray that as I meditate on Your Word (and Lord, please teach me how to do that), You will reveal to me the incredible blessings You have given me in Christ.  Help me comprehend the significance of being chosen by You before the foundation of the world and the power and authority that is available to me as a member of Christ’s body, the church.

Lord, You know my heart.  And You know my desire to grow into the likeness of Christ.  As I study this letter, please transform me from the inside out, renewing my mind and enabling me to walk in the fullness of my identity in Him.  Give me the strength to lay aside my old self and put on the new self, created to be like You in true righteousness and holiness.

Thank You for the opportunity to dive deep into Your Word and to commune with You through prayer.  I trust that as I faithfully seek You, You will guide me, teach me, and empower me to live a life worthy of the calling I have received.

In the mighty name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen.


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What To Expect When You Go All-In With God

What To Expect When You Go All-In With God

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Going Deep, Over Our Heads

We have been talking about experiencing God and increasing our faith for quite some time.  And our focus has been on the what and how of the Higher Christian Life or of becoming a Faith Prepper, and not necessarily on what happens when we decide to actually jump into the deep end of the faith pool— without water wings.  But that all changes today.

Over the next few posts, we’re going to look at the exposed underbelly of committing all to Christ, the things nobody wants to talk about, or the personal costs and sacrifices involved in actually following Him to that extent rather than just saying we want to.  Jesus referred to this as counting the costs, and we let Him begin our discussion in Luke 14:28-33.


What Does it Mean to Count the Costs?

Several times during His ministry, Jesus seemed to thin the crowd of those following Him by revealing His true standards for salvation and discipleship.  We see this in John 6, for example, where after teaching about total commitment and the requirements for eternal life, He says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).  Ouch.  That came out of nowhere.  Then, after explaining this was not some preacher ploy or a slick play on words, “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand (or accept) it?’” (John 6:60).  And finally, a few verses later, when they truly understood what Jesus was saying but refused to accept His requirement for discipleship, they packed their bags, waved goodbye, and headed back home (John 6:66).  Their adventure with Jesus was over.  Why?  Because He did not live up to their standards, and they refused to accept His.

In other words, they failed to count the costs of following Him.  What they thought He demanded from them was far less than what He actually demanded, and they were not willing to pay His price or meet His standard.  And what was His price for discipleship?  The same as it is today— all or nothing.  Jesus requires everything of us, not just the part we choose to give Him.

Remember, He sets the requirements for discipleship, not us.  And as with just about everything in the Christian life, it’s a choice between two extremes— life or death, hot or cold, light or darkness, the narrow gate or the wide road, walking by the Spirit or by the flesh, bearing good fruit or bad fruit, you get the idea.  He says to follow Him, we must first deny ourselves and then die to ourselves.  There is no third option.


The Costs of Discipleship

And this brings us to the Luke 14 passage.  Here, we see Jesus adding another level of commitment to those who follow Him, or as He said, “If anyone comes to Me.”  In two verses, Jesus clearly reveals the level of devotion He requires of His disciples. And on the surface, they look daunting.

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot (is not able and does not have the power) be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot (see above) be My disciple” – Luke 14:26-27.

And to add insult to injury, Jesus follows this seemingly impossible command with two examples of those who confidently intended to begin a task, only to discover they did not have the resources to complete what they started or didn’t have what it takes to finish strong— or finish at all.  As with the entrepreneur who wanted to build the next Trump Tower or the king who decided to expand his kingdom, Jesus’ warning to us is the same:  Don’t be like them!  Don’t flash and fade.  Count the costs, or don’t start in the first place (Luke 14:28-33).


What To Expect When You Go All-In

This brings us to the topic at hand.  What can we expect, or what costs will we endure if we fully commit our lives to the Lord?  Or, to make it personal, what will happen to us if we die to ourselves and surrender everything to Him?

The answer to this question will take several posts to unpack fully.  But today, we are going to look at just one of the unanticipated and unintended consequences of burning our ships in the harbor and fully committing everything to Him.  And that is simply this:  On this side of eternity, while we still “see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12), you will experience unexplained pain, suffering, trials and temptations, and often unfulfilled expectations and disappointments with God— or at least disappointments in what you think God should do in your situation.

Does that sound troubling?  Then consider the following.


“I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”

God tells us in James 1:3-4 that His chosen method of making us “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” are various (many) trials and the testing of our faith.  And how is our faith tested?  Just ask those spiritual heroes we see in Hebrews 11.  God included each of them because they persevered through trials, some unimaginable and horrific, and yet held on to their faith in Him.  He did not give them a pass, provide an easy way out, nor did He supernaturally keep them from their hour of testing.  No, God allowed Satan and the world to pour out its wrath on His children for their ultimate good (Rom. 8:28) and as a testimony to others who will go through the same, yet without the benefit of graduate-level faith.  In essence, God allows us to experience truly difficult times in order for our faith to be proven genuine and worth more than gold— all to the glory and honor of Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).  Read the 1 Peter passage yourself.

But there’s more.

God also seems to wait until the 11th hour and 59th minute before He acts.  Why?  Because the longer we remain in a state where it’s only our faith in Him that will sustain us, the greater our faith will be when we emerge from the crisis.  This seems to be His MO for forging ordinary believers into saints He can use to change others.   For example:

   Paul and Silas in the Philippian Jail – Acts 16:25-34.  God waited until they had been beaten and condemned before moving to free them with a great earthquake.  He could have moved before “they had laid many stripes on them” (Acts 16:23), but chose not to.

   Abraham and Isaac – Genesis 22:9-14.  God waited until Isaac was bound on the altar, and Abraham had raised his dagger to plunge it into the chest of his son before speaking (vs. 11).  God could have spoken sooner, much sooner, but chose not to.  And in doing so, He waited until all hope was gone before providing deliverance to each of them.

   Lazarus (John 11:1-44).  Jesus intentionally ignored the request from Mary and Martha (vs. 3) and let Lazarus die (vs. 6), and his two sisters wallow in their grief and disappointment for four full days, before doing the impossible.  He could have healed Lazarus from a distance, but chose instead to raise him from the dead.  And the result?  Greater faith for all, and four days of suffering for Lazarus and his family.

Remember, wanting your faith to grow has a deep cost associated with it, and we must count that cost before moving forward. But there’s more.

   Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego – (Daniel 3:8-25, 6:10-23).  In both cases, God could have rescued them before they suffered the fiery furnace or the lion’s den— but He didn’t.  Instead, God performed an even greater miracle by rescuing them during the storm rather than keeping them from experiencing the storm altogether.  It is God’s choice, always— and He seems to choose to grow our faith through trials and sufferings rather than allowing us to avoid them (James 1:2-4).

And let’s not forget the years of rejection and injustices suffered by Joseph before God exalted him to power in Egypt (Genesis 41).  And the taunts and ridicule Joshua endured at the hands of his enemies while waiting for the walls of Jericho to fall— God’s way (Joshua 6).  Then we have Moses and the children of Israel boxed in with the Red Sea on one side and Pharoah and his chariots on the other, with no place to go (Exodus 14).  And again, God protected them, yet let them wait before answering their prayer and parting the Sea.


The Take Away

One cost you must embrace when asking God to increase your faith is that your faith grows when it is tested— and testing often comes in the form of extremely unpleasant circumstances we’d really rather not experience.  And when we cry out to God for Him to remove this crisis in our life that He has allowed for the growth of our faith, we must realize He usually waits until all hope is gone before stepping in and saving the day.  Yes, He could have responded sooner, long before things got bleak.  But He didn’t— and He obviously had a very good reason for waiting.

And it is in the midst of the storm while patiently waiting that graduate-level faith develops.

One final thought.  If you want some examples of God allowing His children to suffer when He could have prevented it before it happened, but didn’t— look no further than the closing verses of Hebrews 11.  For it is here, in this crucible of tribulation, that true faith matures.

Women received their dead raised to life again.  Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword.  They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy – Hebrews 11:35-38a.

Note the last statement: “of whom the world was not worthy.”  I pray you will join me in asking the Lord to give us this kind of faith, even if we must accept unjust trials and persecution along with it.  Because, after all, what follows is a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), who are cheering us on in our journey as we, like them, look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).

Let’s count the cost and embrace the prize, which is so much better than our suffering for a season.  And I’ll see you in the deep end.


Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

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How to Experience Lasting Peace in This Life

How to Experience Lasting Peace in This Life

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The Antidote for Anxiety

To understand what God says about worry and doubt, let’s look at a classic truth found in Philippians 4:6-7.  In this passage, the Lord gives us His perfect plan for both living free from doubt, fear and anxiety, and also how to experience a divine peace that is literally beyond all human comprehension.  Frankly, unless you have experienced it, you cannot begin to understand what it means.

So, let’s begin, as usual, by first examining this passage and then unpacking its meaning.


What It Says

(You, make it personal) Be anxious (to be troubled, concerned, worry, fear) for (about) nothing (mēdeís – not even one, no one, nothing, no matter what it is), but (contrast to being anxious) in everything (pás – each, every, all, the entire, the whole, without exception) by (how) prayer (to request or entreat God) and supplication (déēsis – to make known a particular need, an urgent or earnest request or petition to God), with thanksgiving (the act of expressing gratitude or showing appreciation, to praise), let your requests (to ask, petition, a formal message submitted to an authority which asks for something) be made known (gnōrízō – to cause to know something, to declare, reveal, to impress upon) to God; and (the promise) the peace (eirḗnē – tranquility arising from reconciliation with God and a sense of divine favor, harmony) of God (His peace or peace that comes from Him), which surpasses (huperéchō – over and above, to extend over or beyond, to be or become of greater quality or value, to use above and excel) all (pás) understanding (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, insight, and reason), will (promise) guard (phrouréō – to keep watch over as a sentinel, protect, keep safe) your hearts (the seat of all desire, feelings, affections, passion, impulses, the center of human life) and minds (that which is responsible for one’s thoughts, reason, understanding, cognition) through (who) Christ Jesus.


What It Means

(or what we can learn from this truth)

Some key points:

1. God tells (commands) us not to worry or be anxious for nothing— and He means just that, nothing… zero, zilch, zip, nada, nothing.

2. Instead, we are to take everything (all that we could possibly ever worry about, without limit) to Him in prayer and supplication (or presenting a specific need or request to the Lord) and trust Him with the outcome.

Remember from Sunday:  When we pray, we are praying to the Sovereign Creator of the Universe.  And when we approach Him in prayer, we come as His child, dearly beloved by our Father.  So, with God as our Father, we have bold access to the throne of the King of the Universe every time we pray.  It doesn’t get much better than this.

3. When we come to Him in prayer, we must also come with thanksgiving, knowing He hears when we cry out to Him and promises always to do what is best for us.  So we thank Him in advance, in faith, for answering us when we pray and for what we know He will do on behalf of His beloved child.  This, more than anything, should bolster our faith and confidence in prayer.

4. Then, once we give our burdens and requests to the Lord, and leave them there, we experience, as a gift from our Father, a supernatural peace of knowing our deepest concerns and fears are now in the hands of the greatest King and most powerful God— who also loves us as His children.  And this peace of God we experience is nothing like anything we have ever known.  In fact, He said it “surpasses all understanding” or is beyond anything we can either ask or think in our finite minds (Eph. 3:20).  This peace is infinitely greater than any human reasoning or any logical or rational solution we can come up with ourselves.  Why?  Because God is the source of this peace, and it comes from Him.  It is a gift to us— His promise for those who trust Him with their anxiety and worries.  And why can we experience this peace?  Because all we worry about is now in the mighty and capable hands of our Father, who is also God Almighty, Lord of the Universe— and more than able to take care of our petty problems.

5. Finally, this peace we experience from God has long-term benefits.  It will guard and protect our emotions from constant worry and our minds from fear and doubt and “what could happen in the future” through our Lord Jesus Christ.  In essence, we can now rest and abide in the loving arms of our Father, who literally spoke the universe into existence, and knows the number of hairs on our heads at this very moment (Matt. 10:30).  Do you understand what that means?


Conclusion

So, to quote the famous Alfred E. Neuman motto, “What, Me Worry?”— Yes, there is no need to worry about anything when we make our requests to our Father, who is the Lord Almighty.  Why?  Because our God is greater than everything, smarter than anyone, and His peace surpasses all things.

Now, go and relax in Him.


Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

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How to Personally Experience God When You Pray

How to Personally Experience God When You Pray

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Prayer is More Than a Monologue

What if your times of praying could become so much more than reciting some memorized words or listing requests from a prayer list?  What if your prayers could transport you into a holy place of sensing God’s glorious presence in a very real way?  What if you began having personal encounters with God every time you prayed?  Do you think it would change your prayer life?  Remember, our God invites each of us to experience intimate communion with Him every time we come to Him in prayer— yes, every time.

In our culture, you can pray before meals, pray for healing, pray for guidance, pray before you turn out the lights and tuck in your kids, you can fire off a quick prayer in a moment of distress, or pray out of religious duty in church on Sunday.  You can even pray memorized, rote prayers out of habit rather than intentionally trying to connect with God.  But biblical prayer is so much more than throwing some words toward heaven and hoping they stick.  God designed prayer to be our lifeline of continual connection and communion with Him.  And prayer is something you can do every day, as often as you desire, for as long as you want.  The choice is always up to you.  God does not require you to set up an appointment before coming to Him in prayer.


Steps to Encountering God in Prayer

So, if all of that is true, how can we experience God when we pray?  How can we revolutionize our prayer life into something we’ve always dreamed it would be?  Are there any tips or steps we can try that others who have been far more successful in prayer than we have used in the past?  Is there anything we can do to connect with God when we pray?

And the answer, of course, is yes.  There are some steps on how to pray that others have used for centuries that are proven to help you experience God when you pray.  Let me list just five of these.

   1. Preparing Our Hearts

Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Experiencing God’s presence starts with preparing our hearts before we rush in with our list of requests.  We must come to Him with clean hands and pure hearts (Psalm 24:3-4), having first surrendered any known sin in confession (1 John 1:9).  We must, for example, forgive others as He has forgiven us (Matt. 6:14-15, 18:21-35), which is often quite difficult— sometimes almost impossible.  But as we daily present ourselves as living sacrifices to Him (Rom. 12:1-2), the Holy Spirit transforms us and renews our minds to align more fully with God’s heart and priorities.  And when He does, the impossible becomes possible.  Try it for yourself.

   2. Entering His Presence

Next, as we come to God in prayer, we are to enter His presence by praising and worshipping Him (Psalm 100:4), focusing on His character, His mighty works, and His worthiness, no matter how uncomfortable this may make you feel.  We are to proclaim back to Him the truths about Him from Scripture as we exalt His name.  Then, we surrender control by getting our eyes off ourselves and onto Him.  And as we wait in stillness before Him, opening our spiritual ears in expectation of what He wants to say (Psalm 46:10, 62:1), He makes us keenly aware of His presence in a way that fills us with peace (Phil. 4:6-7), joy (Psalm 16:11), and spiritual strength to carry on, no matter our circumstances (Isaiah 40:31).  It’s like a breath of fresh air.

   3. Two-Way Conversation

After this, prayer then becomes an amazing two-way conversation.  We speak to Him, and we listen for His still, small voice in return (1 Kings 19:11-13)— although sometimes His voice is not so still and not so small.  He can, after all, communicate with us in any way He desires (think fire and smoke on Mount Sinai).

So we make our requests known to Him as our loving Father (Matt. 6:8, 7:7-11), while honestly expressing our thoughts and emotions to Him without fear (Psalm 62:8).  There is nothing we are going to tell God that He doesn’t already know, including how we feel at the moment.  We can ask questions about His Word or will and receive answers by the Spirit (John 16:13-15).  We wait patiently in His presence for impressions, revelations, scriptures, ideas, verbal words, or internal promptings as He speaks to our inner being about the concerns of our hearts in whatever way He chooses.  We just have to be patient and wait for Him to speak.  There is no rushing the Lord— He speaks when He is ready.

And then, when He does, we respond to what we’ve heard or sensed from Him, asking questions to make sure we understand fully, writing down what we never want to forget, and waiting again for more of His wisdom.  This two-way communion fuels our love for Him, and we learn to recognize His voice the more we spend time in His presence.  This experience with Him almost becomes addictive, which is not a bad thing.

   4. Jesus-Centered Petitions

After aligning our own hearts with the Father in worship and two-way conversation, we’re now ready to intercede for others.  As we lift people and circumstances by name, we base our petitions on Jesus’ finished work on the cross, and not on the worthiness, merit, or spiritual maturity of the ones we are praying for.  We ask in faith according to His will (1 John 5:14-15), with complete confidence in His compassion and power to always do what is best in every circumstance (Rom. 8:28).  We pray, knowing His Word always accomplishes His purposes (Isaiah 55:11), which allows us to come into agreement with what is on His heart for each person and situation (Matt. 18:19-20), rather than telling God what we think should happen and getting petty when it doesn’t work out the way we prayed.  Finally, and with great joy, we release each one into His hands for His perfect will to unfold in His perfect time.  We bring our concerns about others to Him, and leave them there.  This is what it means to pray to a sovereign God.

   5. Childlike Boldness

Jesus said He would answer prayers that were prayed, “in My name” (John 16:23-24).  To pray in Jesus’ name means to come before God with the full authority given to us as children of God and to pray according to His will, or to pray what Jesus would have prayed if He was still walking with us on earth (John 5:14-15).  Just as a child asks something of their loving father based on their relationship rather than on their merit, we can now boldly approach God’s throne of grace in full assurance of His love and acceptance as His children (Heb. 4:16), gaining confidence to ask Him for anything and everything on our hearts.

While God delights to give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4), He also gives us what He knows is best when our desires don’t align with His greater plans— which, unfortunately, often happens, at least with me.  And as we learn to trust Him fully in childlike dependence, He fills us with supernatural peace and joy during every circumstance— whether it’s good, bad, or horrific.


Conclusion

Remember, God designed prayer for continual connection and communion with Him because He longs for an unbroken relationship with us, or for us to “abide” in Him (John 15:4).  As we learn to pray with a clean heart, enter His presence in worship, listen for His voice in a two-way conversation, intercede in Jesus’ name for others, and come to Him with childlike boldness, we will experience His presence in ways that transform our everyday lives.

God promises when we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (James 4:8).  So why would we settle for anything less than experiencing His incredible presence whenever we pray?  Why, like Esau, are we content with a bowl of stew when we have the inheritance of the firstborn?  Determine today that you won’t just say distant prayers “about” God, but will earnestly seek Him through prayer until you encounter and experience Him personally.  And as you taste and see His goodness (Psalm 34:8), you’ll agree that time spent experiencing Him in conversation is the best time of your day— hands down.

So don’t waste another prayer.  Get started today.


Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

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