Patmos Journal – #8

May 6, 2020

Prayer from Patmos

…for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.  Acts 4:27-30

Reading at Acts chapter 4, you come across these verses amid the prayer of the believers who are gathered under escalating persecution. Peter and John had just been dismissed from an interrogation. These two men lead in the emerging church, writing what is to be inspired scripture, and will continue to suffer greater things for their faith–martyrdom for one and exile on Patmos for the other. Here, the Jewish council had reviewed their activities, and threatened with a cease-and-desist order; no more of this Jesus talk or attributing to Him the working of miraculous things…

Where the chaffing for me really ramps up is not by the ignorance and blindness of leaders in the show-of-force meeting, but in the gathering of the believers with Peter and John upon their release, and what transpires there. We’re reading what transpires there…it is prayer.

I project our present day back into this first-century event, and imagine the response if such a rights restrictive power-against-the-people ruling should occur today. There would be a rush to demonstration marches, penning of snappy chants, public wielding of firepower, passionate and profane venting across every media platform, rampant t-shirt and hat sales, defiant posturing, and probably someone’s going to have their sofa torched.

You understand, I’m just imagining. These would be expected responses from the unregenerate who only know earthly kings and always oppose power, until they wield the power. We should perhaps grant the understanding that God’s people would not respond in such manner to the overreach of a government wanting to be the only voice heard.  By example, that might-is-right approach was the situation in Jesus’ day, and He did not lead a rebellion, but a rebirth to all who would deny self, take up their cross daily, and follow Him.

It’s the time of year for having our National Day of Prayer; the first Thursday in this month of May. The roots of this national observance go back to the days of the Continental Congress, and a long line of observances mark the 245 years since its inception. Gatherings of all types in myriad locations are focusing this year on praying for “God’s Glory Across the Earth.” The theme verse is from Habakkuk 2:14. That may not mean much, but coming from an obscure minor prophet who details how God can and does use a wicked nation to punish His disobedient people, it should not be lost on us.

In Acts 4, the church did not plot overthrow or revenge. They did not ask God for ease, comfy days, powers that were sympathetic to the faith, or lightning to consume the wicked “them.” They knew God was using even the hardened to accomplish His will. What they desired and asked for was the continued, confident communication of the gospel through them. That is, they desired strengthening to be faithful in their call, as they knew God would be God in conducting His business.

I find with this Day of Prayer, more a heart’s desire for revival in our land, than perhaps I have ever desired before.

We have sought God’s blessing while continually dismissing His will, His Word, and His ways from our national life. We yearn for ease of life for pleasures and recreation, while accepting abortion, trafficking and vices of the unsaved with nary a tear.

The first church asked for strength to continue on in the strong testimony. Perhaps our prayer should be first for our return to the testimony. A return to “business as usual” seems clearly out of alignment with God’s will for us.

I don’t mean to sound hypercritical or above the argument. I have seen the coolness in my life. The desire for “normal” days and events that are easily planned, managed and resultantly explained. The crying out for natural rhythms rather than supernatural power. In God’s scale, I am found wanting. Where are you?

So I do pray. I read this Word. I strive to listen for God, so that in my quietness I may discern His speaking, rather than dwelling on my many words. I find it hard to cheer about a National Day of Prayer, when it should be a daily thing for this nation, once blessed in the providence of God, and now just like the other nations that squandered their invitation to make His glory known.

This I know: God’s purposes will not be thwarted. He will be exalted in all the earth. One day every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord of all. Some will declare this in great joy, others will admit this in deep anguish and conquered surrender. I want to make His will my priority, for the days as always are evil, short, and foreordained by His immutable counsel.

And this I know: I cannot pray for the “them” revival until there is the “me” revival. And I cannot pray for the unsaved to respond to the gospel, if I am not living out the proof of its residence in me, displayed before this world in its present darkness.

And this I know: The fervent prayers of the righteous are very powerful. The self-righteous only pray to themselves.

Pray, friends, without ceasing. God will do mighty things, in us, and throughout this world.

Patmos Journal – #5

April 15, 2020

Peace in the midst of the storm 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all give an account of this storm. Let’s read Mark’s version:

Mark 4:35-41
35  On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.”
36  Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him.
37  And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.
38  Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
39  And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.
40  And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41  They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

I’ve been on big water when a storm kicked up. Not anything I’d like to ever repeat – but you can’t always know when the next storm is going to come. You just know that in time, it will. The hard truth is that faith cannot be tested well in calm waters. I have learned this in my life; I am still learning it today.

The disciples are probably thinking of Jonah as they contemplate their situation. Given that they know their Scriptures, it could be they are pondering what sin has caused God to now sink them into the deep. Even their response seems to mirror the pagan sailors waking that reluctant prophet with word of their soon-demise. When tested fishermen are rattled, you know it’s a bad one…

But these fishermen and company are with Jesus. You’d think it would be smooth sailing with the Creator of the world in the boat. Still, they must have the storm. We see Jesus, and unsurprisingly, He is not upset by this event. There is no screaming, or wild gestures from Him. He is at peace, and when He speaks, perfect peace on the sea is immediate.

These disciples are learning of Him, and I am amused that we often get critical of Peter and the band, as if we would do much better in their place. Times like we are in today should help us to realize that we too have much yet to learn about our Lord, and deepening our faith in Him.

In this current violent storm, we might consider this as well: God allows such natural occurrences to open mankind’s eyes to our frailty, sinful condition, and limited life. We don’t always bring the trial on ourselves, but a judgement does often fall by rejecting God, embracing sin and balking at repentance. The Lord’s patient desire is for a spiritual turning. The storm could be viewed through God’s heart of mercy, even amid so much destruction. He seeks to draw all to Himself. It often takes much to get our attention. I know it did in my life, many years ago.

Yet, as believers experience, God often ordains His children to be in the storm as well. This is to sharpen and perfect us. He would have us to testify of Him both to the lost, and to the fainthearted saints whose faith is not as seasoned as our own. Remember Mark’s words at verse 36; there were “other boats” that were with them. A lot of people were in that storm; a mixture of faith and fears. Sometimes we tend to think we’re the only one in the storm…

My hand is up first to bear witness that no testing seems pleasant to us. I must keep my mind on Him and not the storm.  I remember Isaiah 26:3; Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.

It is helpful for us to focus on this greater issue the Lord then speaks about to the rattled “survivors” of this storm at sea. Don’t miss the point: Jesus tells them that this is not about waves; it is a question of faith. This truly sharpens me, for I need to ask if I’ve determined a “point” in this storm (or any) where there can be no more faith, only wide-eyed fear of the situation. You know, the point where Jesus is not producing rescue/ease/tranquility/goods/whatever as I think He needs to give me, and I abandon Him for something that will “work” in my situation. Could that “lifeboat” I jump into be my portfolio? My social media responses? An old addiction, or a new shiny one? Am I resolute in looking to Jesus, or do I habitually fall into unbelief which so powerfully drags me under (Heb. 12: 1-3)?  All are fear responses when I vainly try to orchestrate my own rescue. And all are indeed a desertion of Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Without faith, the only direction is down to the depths.

I read at the beginning of Mark’s account, that Jesus had told them (:35) they were going over. I do know that Jesus does not lie. So, He gave assurance to them, (had they been listening) before the storm ever appeared, that they would be safely across, with Him. Do I fully accept the Word of Christ, that regardless of the storm I ever find myself in, He will see me safely home, in His presence?  I find it reassuring that the biggest challenges around me are not my material concerns. Whatever shape those “waves” take, they are not the core issue. They certainly are not the Lord’s chief concern, for He has determined to provide for me. Read of this in Matthew 6:19-34. Storms can and will come, and change, and ramp up, and fall away. The waves are not given to defeat us, but to strengthen our trust in, our relationship with, and our dependence on our Lord. He provides in the storm, because He is with us in it.

Even with all our experience in life, and lessons of faith, there will always be deeper, more severe storms.  We don’t choose them, set their duration, or approve their timetable.

Also, I need to grasp that faith is not merely reading, and assenting. It is not just mouthing a creed as if on autopilot. Faith needs legs to exercise itself. That move from the desk to the real world is a test we are not always poised to take. I do wonder in our keyboard world about the ease in which we can sit and hammer out words. I ask myself this as I write today. What I say had better be lived, else it’s a profitless head game that won’t stand up in trial to a breeze, let alone a gale.  Likewise, in our video/post/influencer world, it is easy to publish carefully “unrehearsed” platitudes, or endless snippets amounting to “happy Jesus songs.” Am I glib when it’s a “good life,” and mute as a stone when the storm breaks the horizon?  For some, I watch them flounder and go down. Their Christ of only boundless blessings has left their love boat, and they solitarily perish. They think they need a greater life preserver; what they need is a greater understanding of the One who gives eternal life.

Storms will demonstrate our substance in faith– read Hebrews 11 for real world examples of this assurance in God. Our resolve in the storm should be to constantly bail out fear from our tiny craft. Jesus is with us, we are all secure, and all will be well through Him.

Even in the fiercest of life’s storms, we can always trust that He will see us to the homeland shore.

Blessings to you, until we meet again…  

Patmos Journal – #2

March 25, 2020

1 Kings 18:20-39 (NASB)
20  So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel.
21  Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word.
22  Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.
23  “Now let them give us two oxen; and let them choose one ox for themselves and cut it up, and place it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other ox and lay it on the wood, and I will not put a fire under it.
24  “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God.” And all the people said, “That is a good idea.”
25  So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one ox for yourselves and prepare it first for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under it.
26  Then they took the ox which was given them and they prepared it and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, “O Baal, answer us.” But there was no voice and no one answered. And they leaped about the altar which they made.
27  It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.”
28  So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them.
29  When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.
30  Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD which had been torn down.
31  Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.”
32  So with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he made a trench around the altar, large enough to hold two measures of seed.
33  Then he arranged the wood and cut the ox in pieces and laid it on the wood.
34  And he said, “Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time.
35  The water flowed around the altar and he also filled the trench with water.
36  At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word.
37  “Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.”
38  Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
39  When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.”

It’s another change this week, with a stricter confinement during the Coronavirus outbreak. News clips show there’s been a lot of wild-eyed folks racing out and wiping out stores in an effort to stockpile some security for themselves. I would imagine that the odds of borrowing a box of noodles or a roll of t.p. from some people are now statistically remote. Astronomically remote…

My usual daily work routine is completely blown up, and like you, I find myself at home. I’ve been bouncing between my home office and my greenhouse, writing, connecting, then moving around outside and getting equipment ready and garden plants germinating. I’ve also had a banner run on eradicating woodchucks from the backyard. Paula’s not amused when I tell her there’s got to be an instant-pot recipe for these things. If times get steadily worse, I think she’ll see the light.  Right now, she’s asking if I’m going back to the church office tomorrow. She really does love me though.

One thing I’ve been contemplating during this pandemic and seismic shift to our lives, is this story of competing gods. I know there’s no God but God who has revealed Himself in Creation, His Word, and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. But if I can probe a little, I believe there are many other gods that have been the object of our worship and devotion right into these present days.

In this recent turn, many of these gods have been found out to not be gods at all. Useless. Worthless. Impotent. Not just having “died,” but truly non-existent.

I have talked to far too many, now despondent because government has not saved us from this. Some who are as collapsed as their stock portfolio. Cheerless individuals because suddenly arenas are dark, and there are no teams to cheer for. Entertainments and amusements are severely curtailed, and many face the grim task of having to interact with others in real life, rather than running to the next distraction. And I can’t overlook those whose very concept of “God” is vaporized–that He could not possibly be God and be good, to allow such suffering to come to His wonderful, busy, productive, educated, polished and entitled followers–at least here on these shores, in the land of In God We Trust.

Ok. So maybe that’s a little harsh and overblown. Maybe.

If you’ve listened to the word in this 1 Kings 18 passage, you’ve encountered a people who should be exclusively devoted to Jehovah God, yet have no trouble embracing other gods of the world along with Him. Can we imagine what they were thinking?

“I mean really, what’s a little harmless diversion? This is new and fun!”

“You’ve got to go along to get along. Embrace other faith traditions, and you’ll be popular.”

“Look at the numbers of people worshiping Baal. I don’t want to look ignorant by not joining up.”

“We’ve been missing out by following the narrow things we were taught in our youth.”

“Look at the Steins! They worship Baal, and their kid just got a scholarship.”

“What did exclusive Yahweh worship ever get us but contempt, ridicule, and hardship?”

The encounter between “the gods” is incredibly powerful. Like a scene built on the lesson of The Emperor’s New Clothes, theatrics and posturing from the Baal priests reveals only naked, stark truth: they have formed and disseminated a lie–a god- that cannot start a simple fire, let alone hear or deliver them.

The Living True One’s visitation then comes through one man praying. A man who knew the quiet, set-aside years, where God tempered Elijah’s faith and taught Him that the LORD hears and responds to the one who declares dependence on Him alone. All-consuming fire falls, and the people witnessing this seem, for at least this moment in time-to get it.

“Yahweh is God. We’ll say it again, Yahweh is God.”

Then, and only then, through man’s repentance by word and deed, God sends relief; God sends the rain.

In this current epidemic around the world and now in our streets, I find myself praying against the common response of many who have said, “I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”

Back to normal is not what we need. We see that the gods of this world are man-made and impotent, without foundation or saving power. That worshiping them leaves us flatfooted in bad times and deluded and parched in good times. That our recognition that God is God alone must reshape our priorities and winnow our allegiances out, so that there is indeed no other impotent god robbing Him. Robbing us.

There should be a rebirth happening within us during this disaster. A closer walk with our Creator. A deeper appreciation for the gifts He gives: His Word, His church. Your family, friends, and work. A surer prayer life and a bolder witness to the truth of Christ. The blessing of the current day He grants us to walk in His presence.

There should be such a rebirth in us. I believe as well there will be many new births in Christ, as God’s people present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to men and women who, after all their calling, leaping, crying and cutting, have discovered the god they tried to move is incapable to flick even a single spark in their direction.

Share your faith. Share your trust in the Living God. Share your freedom from the gods of this world.

And for heaven’s sake, when I call you to borrow that box of noodles…