Hope

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

— Psalm 27:13

Just this past week, I’ve finally started finding my way out of weeks of pessimistic—and nearly obsessive—observation and analysis of current events around our country and world. Things have been looking, and frankly still continue to look, pretty bleak. I still feel the US economy is as fragile as a house of cards. There are a concerning abundance of serious world events (the oil spill, situations in Israel and Iran, the EU debt crisis, Russian aggression, Iceland’s volcanoes…), any one of which could be the head domino that triggers a series of events leading to wide-scale war, famine and the collapse of economies and currencies. (Consider the following graphic as an example of the abundance of sober analysis).

But I’m coming to the conviction that dwelling in those ditches of despair is not the appropriate place for a Kingdom citizen. While there certainly is the place for what Mike Bickle refers to as “anointed observation” of what is unfolding in the world, which requires knowledge of sign events and trends that are predicted in Scripture, one must not allow this observing to transpire into hypnosis. And that’s what was starting to happen to me.

Having a level of calling to the arena of watchman and “anointed observer,” I feel I might be particularly vulnerable to cycles of hypnosis-inducing information overload and loss of hope while I learn to walk the line of observation while avoiding intoxication. I have an Issachar-type prophetic gifting that helps me sense the timing of coming events. And when I get these senses, I usually do my best to prepare for them and gather as much information about them as I can. So, sensing that things are emphatically not smooth sailing these next few years, I’ve pulled up my iGoogle home page each morning nearly expecting to read about the next stock market crash, the triggering event of World War III or a major currency failure. Let me tell you, it’s not a particularly fun way to live; it’s kind of burdensome, especially when handled wrong as I’ve been doing.

The Seed of Hope

But God is good and as I’ve shifted my gaze back upon the Lord these past few days, His peace and joy have been able to shift the balance of my perspective back where it belongs: in hope. Hope isn’t naïveté. It isn’t ignorance. It isn’t blind faith. Biblical hope is “favorable and confident expectation” and “happy anticipation of good” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary). No matter what circumstances suggest, Biblical hope is possible because of the ground upon which our hope rests: Christ himself.

The Holy Spirit said through Paul in Romans 5 that hope is birthed when tribulations produce perseverance and perseverance produces character and character produces hope. Therefore, the soil of the world stage right now is actually quite ideal for producing hope within those committed to persevering into Christlikeness amidst the tribulations. And the Holy Spirit promises that this “hope does not disappoint”!

This seed of hope that God buries in the midst of tribulations is why Jeremiah could prophesy to the Jewish captives in Babylon that the Lord had thoughts of peace and not of evil and that He would give them a hope and future. They would call upon Him and He would answer; they would seek Him and they would find Him (Jer. 29: 11). Thus, it made sense for them to “build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (5-7).

I’m not proposing prophesying peace and safety when there is no peace and safety. God was clear through Jeremiah that it would be 70 years before they would see the fruit of the hope-seed. There were many itching ears that wanted to believe it would be shorter and there were plenty of prophets who would tell them what they wanted to hear. And God would deal with them (21-32).

So, God was clear with proper expectations: they would remain in captivity, but in that place of captivity they ought to still operate in hope. Not false hope based on a false prophesy of a short trial, but true hope based on the true Word of the Lord that when their long trial was over, they would return to prosperity.

Daniel: A Model Life

What’s provoking to consider is that one Jewish who man committed to living out the exhortation of Jeremiah to fully engage in the Babylonian culture in which the Jews were enslaved—to increase there and not diminish and to seek its peace—played an absolutely vital role in seeing the captivity end. His name is Daniel and he is THE prophetic model life for the times we’re entering into.

Daniel was swept away into a deeply dark, pagan land of Babylon and forced for three years to prepare for service in the king’s court. Yet, while excelling in all the ways of the Chaldeans, including the pagan practices of magic and astrology, he maintained integrity in His commitment to the one true God. Like Jesus, Daniel grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.

Daniel went on to serve in top governmental leadership roles for several Babylonian and Persian kings, spending the final 80-some years of his life in the foreign land. He helped end the Jewish captivity at the God-appointed 70-year mark by discerning God’s word of rebuke to the Jews and repenting on their behalf (Daniel 9). Carrying this insight of the appointed end of the captivity, Daniel was able to operate as an embedded intercessor for King Cyrus until the word of the Lord broke in and stirred up the king, whom Daniel advised, to establish the outrageously generous decree that allowed the Jews to return and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1).

A Superior Perspective

So, this all brings me around to the verse I lead with: David’s psalm of triumph and overcoming amidst undesirable circumstances. Had the Lord not been with him—had he not the hope of salvation and deliverance, David would have lost heart. He would have embraced hopelessness. But he didn’t. David was able to maintain proper perspective because when God said “Seek My face” the Lord’s face David sought. Thus David’s head was “lifted up above [his] enemies all around.” He was able to see with a different, and far superior, perspective.

There are plenty of reasons to have concern about the future of our country. For the most part, America is prideful, unrepentant and is being led by an opportunistic oligarchy. We are not residents of a righteous land, generally speaking. Evil is rampant and we need to be rebuked and heed correction quick and in a hurry. But. Buuut!

But God!

What if we maintain hope in a God that can call those things that do not exist in being? Righteousness could reign! What if we daily declared that He who began a good work in this country would bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus? We could finish our assignment! What if we were convinced that we would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living? We could witness revival and renewal. What if we believe that all things work together for good for those who love God? We could flourish in even the most evil, caustic environment! Why should we ever loose hope?

The purpose of Christianity is not to preach and prophesy doom and gloom until God rains judgment down upon the earth and its evil inhabitants. It’s to re-present Christ Jesus, the hope of glory, to a lost and dying world. It is to see His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Pop!

A few weeks back I DVR’d a documentary on CNBC titled Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. The whole Enron scandal being a rather distant memory at this point, I thought it would at least offer some light entertainment. Turns out, when I watched it tonight, I found it more than entertaining; it was highly revelatory.

I don’t have enough authority of knowledge in these matters to make a strong, well-supported-with-charts-and-graphs case for the purpose of this blog. But I’ll just throw out my point: I’m very concerned our great country is one big, Enron. I’d like to think I’m wrong. I’d like to think we’re past our speed bumps and blue skies await. I pray for our prosperity and a return to our senses. But there are just so darn many red flags, I can’t reason otherwise.

Summed up, the Enron scandal was a case of smoke and mirrors. There was a grandiose appearance of wealth and prosperity, but hidden far beneath layers of accounting fraud, conspiracy among the elite, and marketing/PR propaganda was a business drowning in red ink. They had some amazing, creative, industry-changing ideas (none of which I really understood), but most of them didn’t end up actually being profitable. They worked in theory, but not in reality.

Year after year, Enron came up with new layers of smoke and new pieces of glass to cover their losses. They had to come up with next big thing to keep Wall St. happy with imaginary earnings. The hoax worked for a good, long while. As long as their stock price kept climbing, they were golden.

But the C-Suite leaders couldn’t sustain the illusion indefinitely. They were eventually exposed by a keen hedge-fund manager who dared to “Ask ‘Why?’” (Enron’s corporate mantra) of the company: “Why can’t you produce a balance sheet like all the other Fortune 500 companies?” The reason, of course, is because the real balance sheet would reveal quarterly losses rather than profits. And once Wall St. caught wind of the illusion and Enron’s stock started taking hits, the wheels started coming off.

Enron leadership, though, would have its employees and shareholders believe everything was fine—that they were “as strong as ever.” “Don’t sell our stock. Don’t reallocate your retirement. We’re coming back.” Of course, the sad truth is that they didn’t. And they damaged thousands of lives as a result.

Smoke and Mirrors

Beneath the smoke and mirrors of our country’s propaganda machines—the mainstream media, our government agencies, and our own delusional thinking that everything will just work itself out because it simply has to—is some serious, serious red ink. I understand that our economy is infinitely more complex than a single corporation, no matter how large. And it’s only a portion of our global economy. But to think this house of cards—even if it’s glued together by incredibly diverse industry—can endure much more is madness. The continual shaking of world crises (wars, natural disasters, financial crises, domestic and international political unrest, etc.) and the sheer weight of our debt and budget deficits are poised to topple us or crush us.

As long as the general public is kept fairly ignorant of the stark reality of our situation, the hoax may very well continue on for a time. People love hearing “Peace and Safety!” (1 Thes. 5:3) and that drum will be beaten all the louder. Sheer public will might keep things afloat for a while. But there’s also a groundswell of truth and reality emerging. People are manning up to the situation and readying themselves to see things as they are and make hard choices. And as that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised to witness and big, fat, Enron-like Pop! that will be the end of life-as-we’ve-wanted-it-to-be.

Sorry to be a voice of gloom and doom this fine, Memorial Day weekend. Let me wrap up by saying that things “getting bad” is a very relative idea, for it implies that things have been good. Don’t get me wrong—in many ways, things have been good. We’ve prospered. We’ve enjoyed relative peace. We’ve lived decent lives. But we’re also seeing appalling moral decline. Our freedoms are being pried away. The wealth and power of our country is being hoarded by fewer and fewer people—most of them with unrighteous motives. The church is drowsy, if not asleep.

So, the end of life-as-we’ve-wanted-it-to-be isn’t inherently bad. It will likely be hard, but it doesn’t have to be bad. I don’t think that it’s God best that we go through hard times in order to get our priorities straight. But it’s something He’s willing to see us through because He knows it’s better that we lose the whole world than to forfeit our souls (Matt. 16:26).

Hope

But personally, I’m full of hope of better days. God is on the move and He’s raising up righteous leaders who are going to champion the causes of the King in our post-American dream culture. People are going to dream of storing up treasure in heaven rather than constructing white-picket fences.

Wherever there’s massive transition, there’s massive opportunity. (As our president’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel says, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste!”) But rather than using a time of crisis to jam through a pride-filled, secular humanistic solution to our problems, the bride of Christ, full of the power of the Holy Spirit, will rise up and exhibit the kingdom of God in ways never before witnessed by the world.

For even as “darkness covers the earth, and deep darkness the people; the Lord will arise over [us], and His glory will be seen upon [us]. The Gentiles shall come to [our] light and kings to the brightness of [our] rising” (Is. 60:2-3)!

We will know Him in a whole new way. And we will make Him known.

Taking the Land

There’s a lot to learn from the book of Joshua in this hour. Joshua’s story is all about taking the land. He leads Israel in battles of both triumph and defeat as they struggle to obtain their allotted inheritance. Joshua is a book of war and conflict and strife that ends with the distribution of the spoils of war.

New, abundant land has been promised to God’s people, but, like the Israelites, we’ve been rather lethargic, if not rebellious, in responding to His summon to go in and take it. Yet, like it or not, God has sovereignly brought us over into the Promised Land. Here it is—we’re in the new land.

But getting here was the easy part. Now the real battles must take place. Thus, it’s important to understand what taking the land might look like. To be blunt: It ain’t pretty. It’s bloody battle.

Now, we know from Paul’s writing in Ephesians 6 that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. Taking the land that is set before us no longer requires the slaughter of thousands of men, women and children. Nor does it involve looking upon people with different worldviews as the enemy, for they are not. They might be under the control and influence of the enemy, but they are not the enemy.

What taking the land primarily looks like is purging it of unrighteousness and consecrating it unto the Lord. The whole reason God commanded Jacob and the Israelites to enter Canaan and slaughter all the ‘Ites is because their deeds were so dark. God tells the people of Israel in Deut. 9:4:

“Do not think in your heart, after the LORD your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out from before you.”

Taking the Promised Land was as much a judgment of evil as it was a gift to God’s people. Sure, God had promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:

“I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

But He goes on to say in Genesis 15:16 that it wouldn’t be until the fourth generation after Abraham’s death that the people would return to Canaan to possess the land, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” God performed a 2-for-1 by singularly blessing His people while judging the unrighteous.

So, entering into our Promised Land isn’t primarily about obtaining our inheritance as the body of Christ. That happens to be an incredible fringe benefit, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about establishing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. It’s about subduing the powers of darkness so that righteousness prevails. It’s about making His name and His way known.

Let me again make the point: this isn’t a physical battle against other people. I’m not advocating another crusade here. The natural, in-the-flesh subduing of evil is something the Lord Himself will engage in upon His return to earth (Ps. 2, Is. 63, Zeph. 3, Rev. 19). But for now, we battle in the unseen realms of power, authority, influence, ideas, thoughts, imaginations, etc.

Paul again sheds more light on this means of warfare in 2 Cor. 10:3-5 (NLT):

“We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.”

And Paul models this warfare all throughout Acts, especially in his ministry at Ephesus where he “spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the Kingdom of God.” He also performed “extraordinary miracles” through the power of God. Paul took land for the kingdom by proclaiming the Truth and displaying the power of the resurrected Jesus. And what was the result of this warfare? A purging of wickedness and a turning towards righteousness:

“…and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19:17b-20).

That last sentence says it all: “The word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.” There’s maybe no clearer picture of what it looks like to take land in the Church era than that.

Conquerors Needed

God desires more Paul’s to rise up. He needs reformers who will go into the centers of influence of the enemy and demonstrate His power and love—those who will conquer new land for the Kingdom of God. Ephesus was home to the Temple of Artemis (or Diana) and the worldwide center of worship of this Greek goddess. Spiritually, it was a very dark place. Yet Paul entered with boldness and assurance that if God was for him, no one could be against him.

Which brings us back to Joshua—a man of similar courage and fame. The Lord had land for him to take by driving out the unrighteousness ‘Ites. It was to start at Jericho and continue throughout the land of Canaan until every last bit of evil had been plundered. “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you,” God told Joshua. Notice the tense shift there: “your foot will tred” is future tense while “I have given you” is past tense. The lands God was calling Joshua to take had technically already been conquered.

Conquered by whom? Jesus. He was already in the Promised Land as the pre-incarnate Commander of the Lord’s army. Jesus was waiting for the Israelites to show up and take the land He’d already subdued. Who knows, He might have been there all forty years, patiently enduring Israel’s grumbling, complaining and faithlessness in the wilderness experience.

What stood out to me when I read this recently (and was the reason I started this whole blog) was the location where Joshua runs into the Commander of the Army of the Lord: By Jericho.

“And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His Hand” (Joshua 5:13a).

Jesus didn’t greet them as they crossed the Jordan. He didn’t visit them in their camps. He was on the battlefield, sword drawn, awaiting their arrival on the scene.

While God has sovereignly been with His Church, leading us across another threshold and into our new land, God’s warring, conquering nature is awaiting our arrival at the point of battle. He’s demanding a Church that will rise up in the spirit of Joshua and “be strong and very courageous.”

If we want to meet Christ in this new land and invoke His assistance (which is our only hope for victory), we must advance not just into enemy territory—we’re already there—but to the enemy’s very gates. There we will find our Conquering Hero who always leads us in triumph (2 Cor. 2:14).

Inheritance

I have a lot on my mind, but don’t have a long blog in me tonight. I will share, though, regarding the verses that have been going through my head a lot the past few days: Psalm 2:7-9. It’s where Jesus recounts the time the Father said to Him:

“You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give You the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

From the very beginning, from day 1, the Father made known to the Son His ultimate destiny: To rule the world. Coming to the earth as a babe to become the suffering servant and then die as the sacrificial lamb of God was only part of the story. It wasn’t the end and it wasn’t the focus. There was something much bigger going on and we catch a glimpse of that Psalm 2, where the Father reveals to the son His plan set Jesus upon the throne of His Kingdom. There was an inheritance to obtain.

In the past, I’ve often read Hebrews 12:2 with a skewed perspective. It reads: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Being the self-centered human that I am, I used to figure that surely the joy set before Jesus was the satisfaction of saving me from my sins. And maybe that was part of His joy. It might even have been a large part of it. But something now tells me that there was more to it than that.

Jesus taught on rewards a ton. One of His primary motivating principles was along the lines of: “Make temporary sacrifices now and you’ll be lavishly rewarded later.” He didn’t demand the disciples pledge their allegiance to Him without incentivizing them. He could have simply said “I’m laying down my life for you, so you owe me yours in return.” But He didn’t. In His generosity, God also provides additional motivators. In Mark 10:29-30, Jesus says that “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Sure, the persecutions muddy up the picture, as does the prospect of having to leave brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, wives and children. BUT, He promises that we’ll be abundantly compensated for the sacrifice. And so it makes sense that the Father would paint a similar picture for the Son. “Commit to enduring the shame of the cross… of making your self low… And in due time, I’ll give you the nations. The nations!”

Daniel 7:13-14 gives us insight into the transference of this inheritance into the Son’s authority:

And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed.

Stunning. Just like we will some day, Jesus presents Himself before the Father and inherits an everlasting Kingdom. And it’s from this inheritance that we’re rewarded ours. Daniel goes on to say in verse 18 that “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and forever” and in verse 22 that “the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.”

There’s a kingdom inheritance for us all—a rewards and benefits package beyond our comprehension. Much of it won’t materialize until the earth is fully repossessed by Jesus and His followers. But the repossession process is already underway and there are lands to be taken now—pillars of society for which the Church has sadly skirted its responsibility: arts & entertainment, business, education, family, government, media and religion.

It’s time that we asked of Him which nations are our inheritance and which ends of the earth are our possession. The devil has ruled this world long enough and it’s time for the revealing of the sons of God.

The Importance of Seeing Him

In 1 John 3:2, the Apostle John says that the reason we will become like Jesus upon His return is because we will finally see Him as He is. Both our natural eyes and the eyes of our heart will perceive and comprehend and understand Who Jesus actually is. We will see Him as He is. When Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, comes to claim His bride and judge humanity, all questions, doubts, confusions, denials and wrong beliefs will melt away and we will encounter unbridled, unveiled Truth for the very first time. It will be intense.

Matthew 24:30 says that he will come with “power and great glory [in brilliancy and splendor].” At this point, billions of people from the nations of earth will actually mourn [and beat their breasts and lament in anguish]. Why? Because they will be encountering authentic love, righteousness, justice and beauty face to face. And they will have turned down the opportunity to be fascinated by this Man and dwell with Him for all eternity.

But the redeemed will be caught up with this Jesus, this bridegroom king, in the heavens, and we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Changed into what? John says it has not yet been fully disclosed or made clear what we’ll be like. But he says we’ll resemble and be like Him. Those sketchy details alone can stretch an imagination beyond its limits, because Jesus is indescribable! With some futility, John tries to describe His encounter with Jesus on the island of Patmos in Revelation 1. He says in the midst of seven lamp stands he saw:

One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.

Try and envision someone whose countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. John wasn’t comparing Jesus’ countenance to just a shining sun, which alone will blind someone who looks upon it long enough. The comparison is to a sun shining in its strength. No wonder John fell at His feet as dead!

I share this not to exhort you to hold on for dear life and try to stick it out until Christ’s return, so that you can finally see Jesus and be changed. I share it because I believe it’s possible to begin that “seeing” process now. The Bible’s clear that there are some limits on just how much of Jesus we can perceive in this present age (1 Corinthians 13:12), but it’s also clear that we can encounter Him in more substantial ways than Moses did! And what happened to Moses when he sat before the Lord for 40 days? His face shown with the glory of God—that very same glory Jesus will bear upon His return!

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18:

Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

And what do we see in this verse, but the very same principle that John makes in 1 John 3—that the key to our transformation into Christlikeness is seeing Him. As we sit before the living Word of God and behold Jesus through revelation supplied by the Holy Spirit, we are being transformed into His likeness. It’s supernatural and beyond explanation as to how this all works. But it works. From one glory to the next and to the next, we’re being changed, from the inside out, into an exact representation of Jesus Christ—that same Jesus whose voice is as the sound of many waters and whose countenance is like the sun shining in its strength.

It all starts with seeing Him as He is.

That’s why Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1 is so important for us to pray over ourselves and our loved ones: that God would give us a “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” and that “the eyes of [our] understanding [would be] enlightened”. It’s the Spirit who searching the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Without the Spirit, God’s wisdom is hidden from us. Paul says “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

That’s why it’s also so important for us to continually ask God for more of the Holy Spirit. In Luke 11:9-13, Jesus follows up His famous passage about asking, seeking and knocking (which is more correctly translated as “Ask and keep on asking… seek and keep on seeking… knock and keep on knocking”) with the statement: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” By implication, Jesus is saying that the best gift we can keep asking for and keep seeking after and keep knocking about is the gift of the Holy Spirit!

(Now for those of you who think that the filling of the Holy Spirit is a one-and-done deal you experience at the time of your conversion, I ask you: What happened to the Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:52, who “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”, when Paul had already been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17; Acts 13:9)? I also suggest you read AW Tozer’s excellent booklet titled, quite simply, How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit.)

I spoke at Real Life Ministries this past summer about the increased revelation of Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit is pouring out upon the earth in this hour. It can be compared to the advancement of television over the decades. The clarity with which one can behold Jesus has progressed from an old, fuzzy, black and white, tube television rendition to today’s more crisp, clear, dynamic and vibrant picture. While it’s still not quite life-like, it’s much closer to the real deal. And it will continue to advance until it crescendos at His second-coming.

Do not be content with your current revelation of Who Jesus is. Because I guarantee you that it’s incomplete, just as mine is. There were a people that thought they knew exactly what the Messiah would look like when He came the first time. They were called the Pharisees—the religious elite of their time. They were the same ones that rallied the Jews to have Jesus killed by the Romans. If our understanding of Jesus does not progress with the Spirit, we risk falling into the same trap the Pharisees did in the first century. We will reject Jesus. In my message, I shared that:

Growing in revelation of Jesus isn’t just important for those who aspire to be worldwide ministers or those who desire to be considered “great in the kingdom of heaven.” It’s also going to prove to be the vital defense mechanism against offense at the onset of His return. The more we think we know Jesus and actually don’t—to that degree we’re prone to being offended at the revealing of who He actually is.

We have to have a humble spirit that yields to God’s agenda and says, “Your ways are higher than mine. Your foolishness is greater than my wisdom. Teach me Your ways, God. By your Holy Spirit, help me see Jesus for Who He really is.”

That’s our destiny: To have a full and accurate knowledge of the Son of God. Paul says in Ephesians 4 that the purpose of apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. What does that process bring about in our lives? He explains:

[That it might develop] until we all attain oneness in the faith and in the comprehension of the [full and accurate] knowledge of the Son of God, that [we might arrive] at really mature manhood (the completeness of personality which is nothing less than the standard height of Christ’s own perfection), the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ and the completeness found in Him.

Paul is once again in agreement with John that the prerequisite to spiritual maturity and Christlikeness is a full and accurate knowledge of the Son of God, AKA seeing Him.

Encountering Jesus is what transformed Paul’s life on the road to Damascus. And it is what will transform us. Let us continue the journey.

Navigating the Mighty River

Last summer, as I was preparing for a teaching at my church, I was in a time of prayer and worship and I saw the image of a mighty river. It was the type of river people love to raft — wide and fast, with stretches of both rapids and calm. This triggered the memory of when I whitewater rafted in West Virginia a few years ago. While recollecting, God started sharing some stuff with me and now I’m sharing with you. (For you Real Life’rs, I apologize for the redundancy, though maybe the refresher will be good for you.)

I’ll paint broad and then fill in some details, but here’s the gist: we’re about to enter rapids. And before we get to the rapids, we have to be back in the raft and paddling so that we approach the rapids from the right angle and speed and are able to make it through the wild stretch we’re about to experience.

Because we’re so worldly, it’s alluring to shift into a “let me relax and recover from the crazy ride I just went through in 2008 and 2009” mode. The economic and political turmoil that we endured the past two years has been unlike anything most Americans have lived through. And it’s made many weary. With gladness, many have embraced this season of apparent reprieve from the stress and uncertainty that was the past two years.

But I’m here to plead that you resist the allure. There is one who may want you to kick back, relax and enjoy a return to normalcy, but he is not God. Rapids are ahead and I believe they’re a lot more wild than the ones we just passed through.

When whitewater rafting, you pass in and out of rapids. It’s not solid rapids for five hours — at least not on the two rivers I’ve rafted. You launch in relative calm and then pass into some mild rapids. You go through another calm stretch and then encounter some faster rapids and then calm followed by more rapids. Back and forth. Some calm stretches are longer and more slow than others while some rapids are crazier and more dangerous than others.

Sometimes the calms are so long and the river so deep that you can dive off the raft and swim around or relaxingly float. Other calm points are shallow and just might require that people get out and push. Similarly, some rapids are relatively minor and you can just enjoy the ride, while others require that you strategically and ferociously paddle your way through them, lest you get off course and be dashed against a boulder.

I believe we’re approaching such a set a rapids — one that will require ferocious and strategic paddling and must not be entered casually. We’ve endured a rough run followed by some reprieve and calm. But the rapids ahead are even wilder and will require a whole new level of focus.

As God was showing me the image of the mighty river and unpacking the impression with me, I sensed Him say to me: “You do well to paddle.” It took me a bit to get what He was saying, but once I did, I saw the wisdom of the strange phrase.

Based on my minimal rafting experience, it seems you can enter most lower-class rapids from whichever angle the river carries you to. For the most part, if you just go with the flow, you’ll arrive at the other end of the rapids in one piece. But not so with the higher-class rapids. When we approached class IV and V rapids, our guide was very specific about our speed and heading. He wanted us pointing a certain direction and carrying extra momentum when dropping into the rapids. And he had additional instructions he’d call out on the way through the rapids to position us properly for every dip and bend. He’d have one side paddle hard forward and the other side hard backward. He’d have us both go forward sometimes and both paddle backward sometimes. And all the while he’d be doing his own steering at the very back.

To a certain extent, we were still at the mercy of the river. Once we were in those rapids, we could paddle backward all we wanted, but we were still going down those rapids. And we could paddle ahead all we wanted and we still wouldn’t add much speed to our descent. That was almost entirely provided by the river itself. Our direction, too, was mostly determined by the flow of the river over and around rocks. But we could often determin which side of a particular rock we would pass by. And that could make a huge difference. So, we played an important role in traversing those rapids safe. Had we rebelled against our guide and not followed instructions, a few of us might have gotten cast overboard mid-rapids. Or we might have flipped the whole raft. Any number of harmful things could have happened.

So all that to say, as we near these rapids, “You do well to paddle.” (Or one could say “You’d be wise to paddle.”) Now’s not the time to be swimming around in the relatively calm waters of 21st Century America. By now you should have re-boarded your raft. Additionally, it’s not the time to be sitting in there idle. You should be actively seeking out and heeding your guide’s wise instruction about how you’re to enter the rapids. Your guide is both the Holy Spirit Himself and the anointed men and women of God He’s placed in your life.

There is a strategic alignment going on right now that will ensure proper entry into these coming rapids. But it takes effort. It takes paddling. The safe way through these rapids is not “going with the flow.” At strategic times, we will be required to paddle against the current, even if to just hold our position as we orient for the next stage of the rapids. Other times we’ll have to paddle with the current, gaining additional speed, so that when the river breaks left or right we continue on and through. Course adjustments are crucial.

We haven’t been this way before, but He has. He knows the way and knows it well — where to enter, where to exit, and every boulder along the way. Keep your ears keen to the Guide’s instruction, for He has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).

Why I’m Siding With Pat Robertson on This One

Lest a reader get the wrong idea and put words in my mouth, I want to preface this all with the fact that my heart is heavy from the pain and suffering the people of Haiti are going through. It is unimaginable. In writing this, I hope I don’t come across trite in any way. I was simply stirred by the Christian backlash against what I thought was a Godly perspective on the situation and I felt challenged in my spirit to not cower from fear of what people may think from me speaking my mind on the matter. May God’s peace that passes all understanding mark the people of Haiti as they walk this road of recovery.

700 miles east of Miami, hundreds of thousands of desperate human beings need our help, our support, our money and our love. And they don’t need… that.

Shepherd Smith, Fox News

Shepherd Smith’s somber reaction to Pat Robertson’s most recent media-stirring news commentary is receiving stellar reviews on YouTube. Five stars and hundreds of comments that can be summarized as “Well spoken, Shep.” Compare that to Robertson’s clips that have few stars and thousands of comments that can be summarized as “Go to hell, you sick, vile person” or “As a Christian, I’m repulsed by you. You don’t represent me.”

He is a top-trending topic on Twitter right now, which is how I found out about his supposed gaffe. When I first saw “Pat Robertson” among the Twitter elite, I thought “Oh no! What did you say now, Pat,” knowing his history of putting his foot in his mouth. Based upon people’s critique of Robertson on Twitter – believer and non-believer alike – you’d think he had cursed and slandered Haitian’s to eternal damnation and wrapped things up with a “Good riddance!” But that is not at all what he said. He said this:

And you know Christy, something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French—you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said “We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.” True story. And so the devil said “OK, it’s a deal.” And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they’ve been cursed by one thing after the other; desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On one side is Haiti, on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come.

Shep, and thousands of others across the world, professing Christians included, apparently feel his words were a little harsh, that his perspective is off, that he’s the one who’s aligned with Satan if he would suggest that a poor, struggling nation and its people had-it-comin’ for aligning themselves with the devil.

Well, I’m here to say, like it or not, that I’m siding with Pat on this one.

Was Robertson being cold and shrewd with his statement? I don’t know, maybe. But I don’t really think so. He wrapped up his recounting of Haiti’s pact with the devil and the distressed state of the republic with the most truly compassionate statement a person can make: “We need to pray that they have a great turning to God.” Because that’s what will really make a difference in this situation.

Shephard Smith, along with the rest of the world and a majority of “Christians,” feel that all a country needs in a crisis like this is exactly what Smith said: help, support, money and love. But is that the case? What does the Bible say is good medicine for a national crisis?

“Now, therefore,” says the LORD,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.
Who knows if He will turn and relent,
And leave a blessing behind Him—
A grain offering and a drink offering
For the LORD your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion,
Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly;
Gather the people,
Sanctify the congregation,
Assemble the elders,
Gather the children and nursing babes;
Let the bridegroom go out from his chamber,
And the bride from her dressing room.

Joel 2:12-16

We see the same response from both Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20) and Ezra (Ezra 8) in their crises, too: They directed their people to seek the Lord. He’s the answer; He always is. He has a solution; He always does. Help, support, money and love from your neighbors helps and it helps a lot. And Robertson’s ministry is in fact providing lots of these forms of assistance. CBN’s Web site says that they “have sent a shipment of millions of dollars worth of medications that is now in Haiti, and their disaster team leaders are expected to arrive tomorrow and begin operations to ease the suffering.”

But those efforts aren’t enough. They don’t come close to matching the supernatural intervention of the Most High. Tons of relief went to Haiti in 2008 when the hurricanes bashed it. But poverty and sickness still reigned there when humanitarian efforts waned. Because, as Roberston pointed out, Haiti’s problem is spiritual at its root. All human problems are. Humanitarian relief isn’t an improper solution, it’s simply inadequate. I did Katrina relief work in Mississippi and could see how good, but inadequate, all the relief efforts truly were. In moments of crisis, we need Jesus and we need Jesus bad. Heck, we always need Jesus bad. He’s the only one who can provide lasting change.

During situations like this, Christians often, and rightly so, quote Isaiah 58:7, where God prescribes how we are to care for the oppressed in times of need:

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

But those same Christians often overlook or lack full understanding of Isaiah 58:6:

Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?

I think there’s a reason verse 6 precedes verse 7: God knows that without breaking the yoke of the spiritual oppression upon a people, sharing food, shelter and clothes with them will have no lasting effect. It will be a treatment of symptoms rather than a cure for the sickness.

True love and true compassion is to point out someone’s sickness because identifying the problem is the key to establishing the solution. If you had a friend who had a constant, day-in, day-out runny nose decade after decade, would you simply keep handing him or her Kleenex? Wouldn’t you, even at the risk of offense, offer to pray they be healed? Or at least suggest they see a doctor? If not, I question how much of a friend you are. And in this case, I feel Robertson was being that friend. Some might question the appropriateness of his timing, but he was helping Christians quickly pray insightful and directed prayers for Haiti.

Haiti’s “Pact With the Devil”

Before today, I knew nothing about the history of Haiti. And I still know very little. But in doing some research on the “pact with the devil” the enslaved made in order to get free, I was able to start understanding the gravity of the pact Robertson cited. A criticism of Robertson’s position provided this recounting of the ceremony:

In 1791 Boukman Dutty, a Vodou priest and one of the leaders of the first wave of slave uprisings in the North of Haiti, led a ceremony in the now-famous Bois-Caïman that launched the revolution and inspired slave revolutionaries to begin destroying plantations. The ceremony allegedly involved the sacrifice of a pig and use of pig blood and a sermon that invoked the good god of African religion to give the slaves liberty and condemned the evil [Christian] God of the white slave-owners.

The original source for that account provided even more information. To quote the research paper:

Thus we can see in the muddled origins of this myth, and in the language of the poem itself, how the Haitian revolution began under the sign of possession. The prayer begins by invoking a familiar god of creation… The last line launches the revolution by giving voice to this god… Finally, [that] god speaks through their hearts, possessing them and using their bodies as instruments of his wrath, speaking what amounts to a supernatural liberty. He has ordered the slaves to take revenge … and he will also control their actions as they destroy the slave economy that has so oppressed them…  This god will speak “liberty” by possessing the revolutionaries’ bodies. They will be free in as much as they offer themselves to his possessing presence.

This, my friends, is no trivial matter. It was indeed a pact with the devil, for by inviting and yielding to possession by any spirit other than Holy Spirit, the slaves were asking to be demon possessed and become the devil’s minions. They were aligning themselves with real, substantial powers: Satan and the kingdom of darkness. Satan’s mission is to steal, kill and destroy humans. Any deal made with him is in fact no deal at all, but simply a means by which he can carry out his mission among that group of people much easier. If this pact has never been renounced and repented of – by leaders of the country or by people on their behalf – then by all means this pact is still in effect and still wreaking havoc. The only hope is to have intercessors standing in the gap keeping the curse at bay until it is broken.

What I feel amplifies this pact’s ability to spawn such devastation is that it was foundational in the nation’s birth. Foundational principles matter a whole lot. Both blessings and curses are passed on from generation to generation. That’s how God set it up. So something being birthed out of a work of darkness is really troubling. Think of all the compounding interest the curse has piled up over the years. Surely righteous ones have emerged that the Lord has set free who’ve stopped the curse from passing through their blood line. But most people don’t understand the power both holy and unholy roots hold over nations, states, cities and families. So I can see how this pact could still be holding many innocent people’s lives under the devastating burden of the curse. It makes me sick. The devil is putrid and vile.

Massive Offense

There’s a lot more I could say and will say in the coming days, including a look at how people who don’t claim Jesus as Lord and Savior are cursed. But I want to wrap up with what stirred me to write this in the first place: How troubling it is to me that so many of those who say they love Jesus and say they love His word have taken such offense with what Pat Robertson said. Maybe they just watched the Shepherd Smith clip, which conveniently cut off the end of Robertson’s statement when he said “They need to have and we need to pray for a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come.” But I don’t think that explains the majority of reactions. I think it comes down to believers not fully knowing the Jesus they claim to love.

For if they understood that Jesus told a son to follow Him rather than bury his father, they’d know that Jesus was sometimes seemingly cold and harsh when pointing out what’s most important. If they understood that Jesus called Peter “Satan” when trying to look out for what he thought was Jesus’ best interest, they wouldn’t be all up-in-arms with Robertson pointing out that a group of people had made a pact with the devil. If they knew that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, they’d understand that Robertson isn’t off his rocker in asserting that Haiti’s problem is spiritual manifesting in the natural. If they knew that Jesus was returning to the earth as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah to kill the kings of the earth as part of establishing his government, they wouldn’t have a distorted view of what a loving God will or will not do.

The book of Revelation explains in great detail the massive devastation upon planet earth that God is going to oversee in the last days. Some events are going to happen at the hands of the devil and his kingdom of darkness; others are going to be judgments sent from God himself. There is going to be horrific pain and anguish among the billions of people of the world. Most are going to take great offense at what is happening and say, “How could a loving God allow such things to happen?” And if you’re alive during those days, as a Christ-follower, you’re going to need a real revelation of Jesus Christ, lest you disown Him like most have Pat Robertson. And don’t think it’s beyond any of us, because Peter thought the very same thing and wound up denying Christ three times. Sadly, the stakes are going to be much higher in the last days; if you deny Christ then and take the mark, there’s no going back.

Discipleship Needed

Having a heart that won’t be offended by Jesus when the end draws nearer doesn’t just magically happen at His second-coming. If you’re offended by a sliver of truth now, your head’s going to pop off when real Truth comes. That’s what happened with the Pharisees and they ended up killing Jesus at his first coming. Believe me when I say a slew of “Christians” are going to be among the masses that align themselves with the Antichrist and plot to kill Him a second time.

The going doesn’t get easier for Christians as the return of Christ draws near; it gets more demanding. Thankfully, God is sending increasing amounts of grace to enable us to prosper in this increasingly caustic environment. Now is the time to start preparing your heart for what lies ahead by pushing into the scriptures, allowing them to pierce, cut and divide you and expose areas of wickedness that are still within your heart. There’s so much grace for it now! God is calling His church to prepare, prepare, prepare for the wedding! The bridegroom is coming and we need to be ready! Don’t be found with a dry lamp when Christ is about to return. Cultivate the oil of intimacy now, lest you be offended with Him later.

In Luke 7:23, Jesus says “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” And he said this after telling of the very wonderful things He had done: “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” How much more will Christians be prone to offense when the not-so-wonderful works of His hands start happening?

Trust me, I’m so, so, so still growing in my revelation of Jesus. I preached on it this summer. I’m in the same grace-built boat of preparation that you’re all in. I encourage you to keep riding with me even when the storms rage greater.

May both God’s and man’s mercy flow like a river through the devastated streets of Haiti and bring healing, restoration and revival to the land.

A Vital Prayer

From Graham Cooke’s Manifesting Your Spirit:

Father, thank you for the life-giving water that resides inside me. You are a well and a fountain. I declare that I do not thirst except for a deeper walk with you.

Dig out that inner well, O Lord, so that hundreds may drink from what you pour out in me. Teach me to be resilient, passionate and alive!

Infuse me with your exuberance until I am massively encouraged—constantly. Develop the internal place of my heart so that it becomes Your living space.

Empower me, Great God, to see life exactly as You do—to view everything and everyone through the lens of Jesus. Teach me to think with the mind of Christ so that my thoughts are an extension of my worship.

As You manifest Your Spirit in me, may the privilege of my encounters with You release the hearts of many to come further on and further in.

For Jesus’ sake.

Amen.