The Gates

Around 3 AM, Wednesday morning September 28th, I was up seeking the Lord. After a time of praying through various scriptures, praying them out loud, this thought came to me and it came like this, “The gates, the gates! The enemy goes for the gates.”. Almost immediately Psalm 24 came to mind, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates and be lifted up you everlasting doors,and the king of glory shall come in”. Young’s Literal Translation has it reading, “Lift up, O gates, your heads, and be lifted up, O age-during doors, and come in doth the King of glory.”.

After more prayer and asking God for clarity, I found myself asking, “What if the idea of gates refers to gates within a person? Could the heart, soul, mind, and strength be considered gates within us? What if the enemy, let in through sin, goes for these strategic gates to control what goes in and out?” Suddenly the words in this Psalm took on a whole new meaning for me. God commands me to love him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. So the enemy goes for the gates to control what goes in and what gets out. I then found myself praying, “God every part of me belongs to you. I no longer give the enemy permission to occupy or control these gates. The gates of my life belong to You.”

This morning, September 30th, I found myself thinking more about this idea of gates as the main entry point into every person’s life. Proverbs 4:23 came to mind as it talks about the gate of the heart. “With all diligence keep your heart for out of it springs the issues of life.”. Then I thought of Luke chapter 21, verse 19, “…by standing firm you will save your lives.”

When I think about the times and the situations I so often fail in, and by that I mean when I choose sin over obedience, I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing a key element as regards the gates of my life. In other words, am I doing everything I can, everything I am capable of doing, to guard the gates of my life? For me when I sin, I know the answer so often boils down to, “No, no I have not.”

Instead of keeping my heart, as an example of one gate, I am allowing sin and therefore the law of sin with its power, (Romans 8:1), control over that gate. From this perspective it is absolute folly, stupidity really, to expect victory in any given area of my life unless and until I have done my part. Why would God come in, step in to do what he can and will until I have done what I can and should, first? Isn’t there a principle that applies here?

1 Corinthians 15:46 “…the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual…”. Now I know that the context here is the apostle is talking about the resurrection of the dead however does it not still apply? After being made a new creation in Christ, the person who is born from above is now freed from the power of the curse, the law of sin, and death. Now the law of the spirit of life in Christ is the operating law, the governing law of his or her life. Since that is the case, the believer is then freed to choose to obey. In the case I’m trying to make this means that the person, in the fullness of his or her humanity, in this case in his or her flesh, can watch over, to keep with all diligence his or her heart, however, he or she must choose to.

Not long before his death, Joshua said this to the people he had taken into the land God promised them, 

Now, therefore, fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your father served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seems evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your father served that were on the other side of the flood or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” Joshua 24:14-15

I realize this is an Old Testament passage but the principle still applies. From a New Testament point of view, since the Son has made us free, and we are therefore free indeed, (for if we aren’t free then we are still in bondage to the power of the law of sin and death, and not born again,) like those Joshua was speaking to, we too are free to choose. And whether we realize it or not, every day, often on a moment-by-moment basis, we do.

So, what will we choose? With the natural part of me, living as a new creation in Christ in a natural body, in this natural world will I choose to give all diligence to guard the gate of my heart? Whatever controls the gates of a person’s life controls that person’s life. What gets into a walled city controls that city. Maybe at first the outside influences aren’t predominant and aren’t particularly strong, but the intent to control to take over the city is there.

If we have been born again, if Christ is the Lord of our lives, then he has set us free. That does not mean however that the enemy of our souls isn’t constantly looking to control the gates of our lives. Sin is constantly looking for a way to get in, to control what goes in and out of our lives. Satan knows far better than we do that if he can deceive us, and through deceit influence, and eventually, slowly and subtly control what gets in through our lives, our heart, soul, mind, and strength, he will, with our cooperation, control our lives. 

When the influences of the world, the flesh, and the devil are permitted to be the controlling influences over the gates of our lives, working through our lusts to let in those things that will at first tempt and influence us, then eventually destroy us, we will then know little to nothing of the power of the law of the spirit of life we have been given in Christ. We will live in defeat instead of victory, discouragement rather than joy. Our lives will be barren when they could and should be bearing quite naturallythe fruits of the Spirit.

“The gates, the gates. The enemy goes for the gates!” No wonder the wisest man who ever lived wrote, “With all diligence keep your heart for out of it springs the issues of life.”, and why Jesus said,“…by standing firm, you will save your lives.”

How Dare I.

I got on my knees to pray and immediately thought I sensed something of holiness nearby. I was about to begin the usual way, using my typical first words, but out of a sense of reverence for the holiness I felt around me, I held back. “Silence,” I thought, “might be best right now”. Then, like an interruption, questions came to mind that caught me off guard, that seemed to me to carry an accusatory tone. “How do you dare to even speak His holy name? How can you call on Him?” “Ah, I thought, “the question is a reasonable one, even if it comes from an accuser. Indeed, how dare I, how can I?” Then, as if delivered with Gabrielian speed, an answer came that I knew was right. That I knew was the right response. “Because of Christ”, I answered back. “I dare because of Christ. I can because of Christ. Because of Him whose name is holy, because of what He has willed to do and has done for me in Christ, I can call, I will call upon His name.”

Holy and heavenly Father. You through Christ, have given a voice to my once dumb and mute spirit. I will use that voice to call on You. “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the vice of my cry, my King and my God. For unto Thee will I pray, my voice shalt Thou hear in the morning.”

Now the question is not, how dare I, or how can I, but how dare I not, and how can I not? For if I do not, the stones will cry out.

“But as for me…”

Yesterday I read through Psalm 5 on my knees. When I came to verse 7, and the phrase, “But as for me…”, I thought it might be one if the sweetest phrases I have ever see, read or repeated.

After looking at himself in verses 1-3 (notes the words “my” and “I”, at God in verses 4-6, then at the wicked, the self-promoting boasters, David finds himself, because of God’s choosing, will and mercies, able to do what God created humanity for in the first place. “But as for me, by Thine abundant lovingkindness I will enter Thy house, at Thy holy temple I will bow in reverence for Thee.

It is always and only, as a result of God’s abundant loving kindness, that any one is called, enabled to hear God’s call, and then entering into God’s dwelling place, to bow, unforced, unconstrained except by adoration, before Him in wordless wonder and worship.

Into The Deep and Unknown Holiness

Into the deep and unknown holiness where the eyes of men dare not peer, where words are too corrupt to be uttered, silence is all I dare offer. I fear I have pushed myself to the door of Thy tabernacle to take what I want, not to receive what You choose to give. “No man takes this honor unto himself…”. O Holy Father, forgive me. Sin has blinded my eyes twice. I neither see Thy holiness, nor my sin. Still in Your great mercy You have allowed me to hear, and what I hear is, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭NKJV‬‬). Only in Thy Kingdom can the blind see better than those with full sight. Only in Thy Kingdom can the blind see by hearing, and by hearing see Thy Word, Jesus Christ. “But, we see Jesus…”

Thought For Today

If being “saved” just in order to get out of hell is where our interest in Christ stops, more than likely we will find that ninety-eight percent of the scriptures, both the Old Testament and New, seem irrelevant or just plain uninteresting. Could that be what the writer of “The Letter To The Hebrews” was getting at here, “So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.” (Hebrews‬ ‭6:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬) Amen! Let us go on.

Living Hope

“Blessed be the God and Father of our LORD JESUS CHRIST. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because according to, by, and because of his great mercy, which, by the way, is the only sort of mercy God has, he has given us a new birth into a living hope.”

In the not-so-distant past, at least in the times and places I grew up in, it might not have been necessary to clarify who Peter was referring to when he wrote “God”. Enough has changed however that the word God has come to be applied to so many things, that I guess we should be clear about just who is being spoken of here, who it is we are celebrating when we use the word “Blessed ”. So here at the start let’s be sure we are in agreement with the apostle Peter.

He is writing about, and we are talking about, “God, the God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one this great mercy comes to us from. Mercy is a part of the character and nature of God. It flows out of that one perfect love that provided new birth so we could be begotten again of God, a new birth that brings us into a living, or lively, hope. This is what it means to be born again. It is why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “… unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God,” John 3:3.

From unending death to eternal life; from complete loss to out-and-out hope. Romans 5:5, “This hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

This living hope is not of this world, it is hope of a different sort, real and concrete. Living hope brings with it God-given, Christ-centered confidence and assurance of eternal salvation, for unlike hopes of all other kinds it is not a hope based on hopeful things, like the things we hope for when we wish upon a star hoping that hoping will make them so.

It is called a living hope, why? Because of who and what it is based on. “Our hope…” the hymn writer said, “…is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” He is the one who though once dead, was resurrected from that place where all other hopes end, and not just in disappointment, but despair, death. Death is the eternal destination where every other kind and sort of hope terminates in eternally unending hopelessness. There is no other hope like this that comes to us from God, through Christ. It is a living hope that cannot be extinguished and can never be diminished. It is like the river that Ezekiel was shown that flows from under the threshold at the throne of God. The further downstream the prophet was led, the deeper the river ran. This hope is one that, “looks forward and lives in the promises…in the certainty of their fulfillment, that waits on God’s time and seeks in patience until the fulfillment has come.” Holiest Of All / pg 225

Hope, as most people, even Christians think of it, is based on what might happen, what we wish would, but are not certain the thing hoped for can happen. We can hope the doctor can get to the bottom of what is making us or those we love, sick, and provide a remedy. We hope our retirement funds hold out. We hope the new 87,000 IRS agents all get planet-saving electric cars with batteries that won’t hold a charge for more than five miles beyond wherever they get plugged in. We hope to find that one person who can love us like we are longing to be loved.

None of these however are what the apostle describes and is recounting. He is not speaking only as an eye-witness. The Apostle is describing what he was given and experienced. When someone goes from being the disciple who denied with cursings that he even knew Jesus, to “an Apostle of Jesus Christ”, you can bet they know what the mercy of God is, and how by it God rescues souls.

This living hope is not based on what might happen, but on what has. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and walked out of that borrowed tomb. (By the way, do you ever wonder if Christ was buried in a borrowed tomb because He knew He wouldn’t be needing it for long?).

This living hope, given to us by God, is the only hope that even when men or devils try to kill and buried it, those who possess it can be sure it will be brought to life again and resurrected by the Living God. On that day the stone was rolled away; when Mary mistook her risen Lord for the gardener, hope burst out of the gates of heaven, a mighty unstoppable river, and began to flow out over the sapphire sills of the windows of heaven, and since that history-changing, resurrection morning, like a river glorious, because of the mercies of God it has never stopped flowing.

As I thought about this I began wondering if all hopes fall into one of two categories, a heaven-based category, and an earthly one. There are, I think, heavenly hopes that will find their ultimate completion, fulfillment, and happiness in heaven because of the living hope that God offered and we accepted here. Then there are those earthly hopes, anchored to nothing absolute and concrete, unsecured by faith in the One that God raised from the dead. These are hopes based on something like wishing upon a star.

I wonder if one of the heavenliest things about heaven might be an eternal discovering. What I mean is unending learning and experiencing that not a single shred of hope ever placed in God was misplaced. Whether for mercy; for forgiveness; for being forever with those we love that died in faith in Christ; for believing that one day all pain will be gone; all tears will be forever wiped away; every broken heart and twisted body will be healed; every injustice received will be put right, and every wound remembered will be forever forgotten.
Imagine getting to heaven and finding there that not a whisp of hope that went up before the throne of God, that sometimes seemed to us like little more than a vapor that only dissipated, was ever not received to be vouchsafed there into order to be fulfilled in ways that will forever be exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond anything we could have ever dared expect to be true. And, what if one of the most hell is things about hell will be the unending knowing that all your hopes that hell was too awful to be possible, and heaven was too wonderful to be real, were wrong? That knowing that you had only to put your hopes in the Makers of the stars, rather than foolishly wishing upon them. That you too could have been born-again and received from God out of His great mercy, this living hope. Friend, have you lost hope? Then there is good news. God’s great mercy is still flowing deep and wide, and it comes to you through Jesus Christ, His Only-Begotten Son.

The story is told when not long after WWII ended, Billy Graham was in Germany, and he was talking to the German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. As I heard the story, while the chancellor looked out over the devastated and conquered country, he asked Billy Graham if he really believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Graham answered Adenauer, “Sir if I didn’t I would have no gospel to preach.” To that, the German Chancellor responded, “Except for that I see no other hope for the German people.” See Konrad Adenauer had been put in charge of rebuilding Germany, and I wondered if what Germany’s Chancellor was thinking and saying was something like, “Our entire nation put its hopes in what turned out to be the ranting and ravings of a madman. Now that it is time to rebuild we need to be sure of the foundation we are building on.”

This living hope, anchored to the actual, historical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, assures us that death is but a door. It is what those who have received this new birth from God, pass through. For them, death, like the shadow of a passing cloud, darkens for only a moment. And when those who have wasted their lives in rebellion, running away from God, (and at some time this was true of all of us), finally turn from that rebellion and run to Him, what they find, even in the turning, is what the prodigal son found when he finally hit rock-bottom, and returned home. What did he find when he got there? Greater mercy than he could have ever imagined. His father was standing there, watching, waiting for his wandering son to come home. I don’t know what the wayward boy was expecting, but you can bet it wasn’t, a ring, a robe, and a great celebration.

Someone reading this message needs to hear that all who run to God and receive His extraordinary mercies, for them death’s grip is shattered, and hell’s hold is overpowered. “For (the greater power of the) law of the Spirit of life in Christ, has made us free from ( the power of the lesser law), of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2). For all who are in Christ death becomes like a passing cloud that overshadows us. Without substance and form, stripped by Christ of its strength, death has no more power to hold anyone God has begotten again unto this lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Now they can sing, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? “ 1 Cor 15:55

No wonder Peter, who was an apostle of Jesus Christ because of the great mercy of God, says to the struggling and probably discouraged and disoriented believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, incorruptible, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Friend, “the Savior is waiting to enter your heart, why don’t you let Him come in? There’s nothing in this world to keep you apart, what is your answer to him? Time after time He has waited before, and now He is waiting again to, see if you’re willing to open the door, O how He wants to come in.”

“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me; See on the portals He’s waiting and watching, Watching for you and for me. Come home, come home, Ye who are weary, come home. Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling – calling, O sinner, come home.”

Help Thou My Unbelief

“Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God.” Hebrews 3:12

It says volumes that in the New Testament letter written to Hebrew believers, that the writer warned them of the dangers of having a heart of unbelief. That the author used the word “evil” to describe a heart in that condition is chilling to me. After thinking about this for a while I was reminded about the desperate dad of a demon possessed son, (see Mark chapter 9). Jesus told this poor father that if he would believe that anything was possible. To this the man cried out, “Lord, I believe! Help thou my unbelief,”

After some self examination I found I was wondering just what am I willing and able to believe my Lord for. Sadly I came to the conclusion that I would be afraid to start making a list of the things I ought to be believing Him for, trusting Him with, but “To day…”, I am not. Like a snake that sneaks up on me, unbelief silently, slowly, subtly slithers in. With dark wisdom and cunning that seems reasonable, the evil of unbelief gets to a vulnerability I did not know was there, somehow making absolute faith and trust in God appear unreasonable.

A Prayer: Lord, forgive me for my unbelief. It is because of the deep weakness of my flesh that I have an evil, unbelieving heart. Sin has so infected the core of me that what should be the most natural response a creature should have toward its Creator, faith and trust, seems unnatural and abnormal, even at times, strange. Oh the tragedy of what rebellion and sin have let in! But, O the scope of Your redemption. The vastness and reach of Your infinite, eternal love is incomprehensible. Who could imagine that such love existed, poised, ready and anxious to show itself? Ready from eternity past to reach into the unseen core of the human heart. Your love reaches down to lift out of despair, out of every obliquity, every obscure, empty option offered by the world, the flesh and the Devil, and all You wait to hear is, “I believe You. Help that part of me that struggles to!”

To that one who with a trembling voice and out of deep weakness and desperation pushes out the words with what sounds like their last breath, Divine love can not not go to. Divine love embraces, drawing that weary, worn and wizened one to its bosom.

“God is love”. Behold Him for He shows Himself to you in His Son. Look at the crucified Christ and see the love God has for you. “No greater love…”, exists. This is a mighty love that no power, not death, not hell, not the grave, can overcome.

In the blessed gift of human weakness, of being backed into a corner, out of options, out of hope, with nowhere else to go, you have arrived at the right place. With trembling words and a broken heart say what God has been poised, ready, anxious to hear. “Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief…”

He has risen, He is risen

One of my first thoughts this morning was, “He has risen!”. But pretty quickly it occurred to me that the KJV reads, “He is risen.” I know, the difference seems only a grammatical one right? But I remembered that I could also say about Lazarus, “He has risen.”, but he was raised only to die again. But of Jesus I can say that he has risen, and he is risen. He raised himself up like someone rousing themselves from a deep sleep. He shook death off as the weak, defeated, puny powerless thing He had just made it, even after He gave death a head start. He laid for three days in the dead state letting death set in, if it could, so there could be no return from its power. It could not hold Him. He stripped death of its strength and hell of its power, and legal right to hold. From every imaginable angle, death lost. Now against its own will, that unholy trinity, death, hell and the grave, now serve the Son, who not only has risen, but is in the eternal state of being risen. What’s more, He will forevermore be risen, and risen for us, “… just as He said He would.” Now that’s something!!!!

Cultivating Our Love For GOD.

Is there something about humanity because of its fallen condition, as evidence of that fall, that makes it impossible for the heart to love God naturally, as it should? Oh there maybe times when affections and feelings are stirred up, but is that the love God is looking for? Is that the manner, the type of love the Son showed us that He had for the Father? Love heated up only by feelings is love that will grow cold when the flames die down.

The love God has, and imparts to us in Christ, that He actually brings us into when He puts us in Christ, might be better understood as a seed He has planted within us. Something of heaven transplanted into us that we didn’t have before. Something sacred, given and implanted, that if it is to grow, needs to be cultivated, nurtured and cared for on purpose. After all, shouldn’t the love of God, that is of Him and for Him, become the biggest plant in my garden, growing until it is large enough, it’s branches strong enough, that the birds of the air can come and lodge in it? (Matt 13:32)

“Do you want to be healed?”

“LATER ON there was a Jewish festival (feast) for which Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem a pool near the Sheep Gate. This pool in the Hebrew is called Bethesda, having five porches (alcoves, colonnades, doorways). In these lay a great number of sick folk–some blind, some crippled, and some paralyzed (shriveled up)–waiting for the bubbling up of the water. For an angel of the Lord went down at appointed seasons into the pool and moved and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was cured of whatever disease with which he was afflicted. There was a certain man there who had suffered with a deep-seated and lingering disorder for thirty-eight years. When Jesus noticed him lying there [helpless], knowing that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, Do you want to become well? [Are you really in earnest about getting well?] The invalid answered, Sir, I have nobody when the water is moving to put me into the pool; but while I am trying to come [into it] myself, somebody else steps down ahead of me. Jesus said to him, Get up! Pick up your bed (sleeping pad) and walk! Instantly the man became well and recovered his strength and picked up his bed and walked…” John‬ ‭5:1-9‬ ‭AMPC‬‬

After weeks of prayer, thinking and journaling my thoughts and observations about these scriptures, it has all, at least for now, been boiled down to this prayer:

You, O GOD are of infinite goodness. Your kindnesses and mercies know no end. They are made new every morning, and Your steadfast love, it never ceases. It is therefore to You that I appeal, for I, O LORD, am the cripple who needs, who wants, to be healed.