If you have a Facebook, Twitter, or other social media account, you know that it doesn’t take long to find a negative statement about the president, or members of Congress, or other governmental leaders and departments.
Some are scathing, some are tongue-in-cheek, some are even funny. Some are true and some are not.
But here’s the thing. If you’re looking to point the finger for America’s declining spiritual state; if you want to place blame for the moral apathy you find in this country, you should not be throwing your proverbial stones at our nation’s government. No, the problem lies with God’s people and the church. And if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, let me bring it home on a personal level: the problem lies with you, and the problem lies with me.
Why do I say that?
When we look at a passage familiar to most believers, 2 Chronicles 7:14, we find that God doesn’t reproach the White House; He calls attention to His house. Here’s what 2 Chronicles 7:14 says [emphasis added]:
“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (NKJV)
Now, initially this verse was spoken to the nation Israel. Some would argue that we take it out of context if we apply it to America. But I think in principle it applies to the believers of any nation, including the United States, for we as Christians are certainly called by His name and are His people.
Notice that God doesn’t mention secular culture. He doesn’t say a thing about your “garden variety sinners,” if you will. He talks to His own people. “If My people …”
So, for those of us who are true followers of Christ, what are we to do if we want to see our land healed? What is God’s prescription for revival? There are three things God tells us to do.
1. If we want to see a revival, we need to humble ourselves and pray.
The word used here for “pray” is interesting. Of the 12 Hebrew words employed in Scripture to express the verb “to pray,” the one used here means to judge self habitually. We are so quick to judge and criticize others habitually. But the Bible says we should really be judging ourselves. If we spent less time criticizing others and more time examining ourselves, maybe we would have revival. It starts with you. It starts with me.
What does it mean to judge ourselves?
It means that we realize we have a long way to go. If you are completely satisfied with where you are at spiritually right now, and don’t think there is any other change or transformation needed in your life, you’ve got a problem. Any Christian who really knows what it is to follow Jesus will always realize they have a long way to go.
The apostle Paul said after years of walking with the Lord, in Philippians 3, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (verse 12 NKJV).
You have got to keep growing. Keep learning. Keep moving forward spiritually. And that starts with setting aside your self-pride and humbling yourself before the Lord.
2. If we want to see a revival, we must seek His face.
We cannot organize a revival, but we can agonize for one in prayer. We can prepare the ground—or perhaps I should say “pre-prayer” the ground—for revival to take root in. There has never been a prayerless revival in history, so it does start with prayer.
We are not just to pray, but to “seek God’s face.” There is a difference between, “Lord, send revival. Amen. Let’s get lunch” and “Oh Lord, we are seeking You. Lord, we are calling out to You. Lord, we are desperate for You. Lord, we need You. Send an awakening to America!”
Seeking the Lord’s face is effectively a prayer that will not take no for an answer.
You may say, “Aren’t you being presumptuous when you pray that way?”
No. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 NKJV).
A different translation would say, “Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking.” Press on. When you are praying for revival—for the turning of hearts to God and the salvation of loved ones—you are praying according to the will of God. We need to press forward in our prayer and seek His face, not backing down.
3. If we want to see a revival, there must be repentance from all known sin.
We must repent. Again I remind you that God is speaking of His own people when He says they must turn from their wicked ways.
All of the praying in the world is not going to help you if you are living in sin. Isaiah 59:1–2 says:
“The LORD’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is His ear too deaf to hear you call. It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore” (NLT).
Want to see America return to God? Don’t look to a political candidates, economic reform, or government mandates. Look inwardly—humble yourself, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from your sin. Then God will hear from heaven and will heal our land.
Reprinted from THE BLAZE
I think the United States of America is standing at a crossroads. We have never been in worse shape morally. Crime continues to explode. Families continue to splinter. The fabric of society continues to unravel.
What we need in America today, and for that matter, around the globe, is a far-reaching, heaven-sent revival.
Revival is a word that we bandy about a lot. We use it often in the church. Some churches will even announce their “revivals” ahead of time: “Revival – this week only. Monday through Friday. Starts at 7 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m.” They may be having some great meetings, but if it is a genuine revival, then it is not something they start or stop. A revival is something God supernaturally does.
As I’ve said before, a revival is when God’s people come back to life again. An awakening, on the other hand, is when a nation comes alive spiritually, sees its need for God and turns to him.
The word “revive” means to be restored to its original condition. It reminds me of people who like to restore old cars. They will find an older Corvette or Thunderbird or something else and then work to make the car look like it did originally. And they are sticklers about original paint and original parts.
In the same way, to be revived means to get back to God’s original design. Revival has been defined as “nothing more or less than a new beginning of obedience to God.” Revival is the spark, if you will, that starts the engine.
Any genuine revival that has ever happened in human history has brought about repentance in the lives of people, a change in the community and evangelism en masse.
We need a real revival – not just an emotional experience, not just a tingle down the backbone. We need to see God work because our nation needs it as never before. We don’t need some “new” thing; we need to get back to the very standards God has given us, and we need to practice them.
I like what the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls’” (Jeremiah 6:16 NKJV).
In the days of the early church, the one that Jesus started, the Christians turned their world upside down. The church of today, which is much larger than the first-century church was, has considerable resources and incredible technology to utilize. Yet it seems as though the world is turning the church upside down. Why? Because we need a revival. We need to be revived before God.
In the book of Revelation, this is what Jesus said to his own church:
“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen!” (Revelation 2:2–4 NIV)
It’s clear these Christians weren’t lazy. They were discerning. They were hardworking, persevering believers. They were not growing weary. They were out there making a difference. Jesus was saying, “That’s great. But we have a problem here. You have left your first love.”
In spite of all their activity, they had lost that first passion when Jesus was all in all. So Jesus gave them the three R’s of revival: Remember. Repent. Repeat. He said, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (verse 5 NKJV, emphasis added).
I am not saying that works will save us, because that is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9 NIV).
Works don’t save a person, but they are good evidence that he or she is saved. If we have truly met the living Jesus, there will be works in our lives. As John the Baptist said, we need to bring forth “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 2:8 NIV), fruits that are consistent with a life that has truly come to know Christ.
Repentance means being willing to change. Repentance means being sorry enough to stop. The Bible says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV).
God has given us his prescription for the healing of a nation, and it includes repentance. He said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV).
God is essentially saying, “My people need to take these steps. My people need to pray. My people need to turn from their wicked ways.”
The church needs a revival, but we must each ask ourselves this question individually: Am I personally revived? As we look at revivals in the Bible and in history, we see they often began with an individual.
While the church needs a revival, America needs an awakening. There are times in human history when God has intervened, when God, in his grace, has stepped in during a very dark time, a time when there was a moral breakdown, and brought about a spiritual awakening. It wasn’t orchestrated. It wasn’t a campaign planned by people. It was a work of God where he poured out his spirit. That is what we need in America today.
Sometimes when I watch television with my wife, she will select something that to me is, to put it delicately, boring. We have different tastes in general, but I’m willing to watch whatever it is she is watching. Sometimes I doze off, and she’ll say, “Greg, you fell asleep.”
There is nothing wrong with taking a little nap, especially if something is boring. But I will wake up denying it, of course. We usually don’t want to admit it when we’ve fallen asleep. That is the way we are. We don’t think we were asleep.
Revival can be described as waking up from a state of sleep. A revival is when God’s people come back to life again, while an awakening is when a nation comes alive spiritually and sees its need for God and turns to God. The church needs a revival. And America needs an awakening.
Thomas Jefferson said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
The Bible tells the story of another place that needed an awakening. It was none other than the ancient city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which was the superpower of that day. The Ninevites were really cruel people and were known for their savagery. When the Ninevites would conquer a nation, they often would torture their prisoners before they executed them. Rather than hide their depravity, they celebrated it and proclaimed it. They even built monuments to their own cruelty.
It reminds me of the Nazis in World War II and of ISIS today.
The Assyrians were the enemies of Israel, so when God told Jonah, an Israelite, to go preach to them, Jonah thought it through. He knew God’s nature and how willing God is to pardon. And his fear was that if he went and preached to them, God would forgive them. Jonah deduced that if he didn’t go to Nineveh, God would judge them, and it would be one less enemy Israel would have to deal with.
The population of Nineveh was around 1 million, about the size of San Francisco. It was a very big city for ancient times. The Ninevites lived large, driving the best chariots and enjoying the finest food and the most exotic entertainment. They had a business and commercial system like none in the world. Assyria had been the reigning superpower for about 200 years, but unbeknownst to them, their days were numbered.
It would not be all that long until Babylon would come and overtake them. But God was giving Nineveh one last chance.
I wonder if God is trying to speak to America right now. I wonder if he is saying to our nation, “You need to wake up, and you need to turn back to Me.” If God could use someone like Jonah to bring about a spiritual awakening, then he certainly could use someone like you or me.
One person put it this way: “If God could bring a mighty revival in Nineveh, with no better representative than Jonah and no more gospel than he preached in their streets, he can surely do the same for America.”
Jonah was stubborn. He didn’t want to preach to the Ninevites. So he spent three days and three nights inside the belly of a great fish, and finally he came to his senses. He had a personal revival.
When Jonah finally went to Nineveh, it resulted in the largest spiritual awakening recorded in the Bible. People fixate on the story of Jonah and the “whale,” but they miss the bigger story of the biggest revival in ancient history.
First God sent revival to Jonah. Then Jonah brought revival to Nineveh.
C.S. Lewis said, “A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. … You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping.” In other words, if you think you are a great person with no problems, then you really are more asleep than you realize.
Nothing can happen through us until it first happens to us. It has to start with us. Sure, we can go out and tell people about Jesus Christ. But let’s make sure we are models of what it is to follow Christ.
Christians today need the faith of the Christians of the first century, the faith that turned the world upside down. Consider this: Everywhere the apostle Paul went, there either was a riot or a revival. There was always action. It never got boring. It doesn’t mean being obnoxious or creating a scene, but it does mean getting some reaction to your faith.
I feel the time has come for the church to start making a disturbance again. Revival is when God gets so sick and tired of being misrepresented that he shows up himself. That is what we need to pray for now.
I think those of us who are Christians all have, in effect, a Nineveh we are called to, some place where we leave our comfort zone, some place where we admit our need, some place where we reach out to someone we would not normally reach out to.
Revival is getting back to the Christian life as it was meant to be lived. Revival is being in the bloom of first love for a lifetime, walking closely with God.
Revival is nothing more or less than a new obedience to God. Then, as Nietzsche put it, it is “long obedience in the same direction.”
Only God can send an awakening to America. But revival can happen right where you are, right now.
Is there a way to pray in which we can see our prayers answered more often in the affirmative? I think the answer is yes, there may be. And I think we can find some answers in what we call the Lord’s Prayer.
This is a glorious prayer, a very familiar one that Jesus gave us.
And it is a model for prayer:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Luke 11:2–4 NKJV)
In all fairness, if we were to be accurate, we would not call this the Lord’s Prayer. Nowhere in the Bible is it called such. This is not a prayer that Jesus would ever pray himself. Jesus would never pray, “Forgive us our sins,” because Jesus was sinless. (If you want to read what could more accurately be called the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer only Christ himself could pray, read John 17.)
It is not just a prayer to recite verbatim, although there is nothing wrong with that. Rather, it is a template for prayer, a model for prayer.
Notice this prayer begins with, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” This reminds us that to see our prayers answered in the affirmative more often, we need to pray according to the will of God.
Jesus modeled this in the Garden of Gethsemane when He said, “Not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). It is OK to pray for whatever you want to pray, but don’t ever be afraid to add these words: “Your will be done.” Put the matter in God’s hands, and ask for his perfect will. But understand this: Sometimes God answers our prayers differently than we would like him to.
The primary objective of prayer is to align our will with the will of God. That is when we will see our prayers answered in the affirmative. It has been said that prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of his willingness. Prayer is not getting our will in heaven; it is getting God’s will on earth.
And how do we know what God’s will is? It is through careful reading and study of the Bible. As you study Scripture, you will discover God’s plan, his purpose and his will.
Having aligned your will with God’s will, you can then bring your personal needs before him. Next Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us day by day our daily bread.” This verse is telling us that God is interested in what interests us. He cares about our needs. It is surprising, really. As Job said, “What are people, that you should make so much of us, that you should think of us so often?” (Job 7:17 NLT) Good question. I don’t know, but I think the answer is that it’s because God loves us.
Also, if you want to have your prayers answered in the affirmative, you must confess your sin. In this model prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive us our sins. …” A better way to translate it would be, “Forgive us our shortcomings … our resentments … what we owe to you … the wrongs we have done.”
If you don’t think you need forgiveness, then you are not spending much time in the presence of God. I think the person who is really growing spiritually will be acutely aware of his or her own spiritual shortcomings. It has been said that the greater the saint, the greater the sense of sin and the awareness of sin.
Next, we also should forgive others: “For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” People are going to hurt you. People are going to disappoint you. People are going to let you down. There is no getting around it. But if you want your prayers to be answered in the affirmative, if you want to live a productive life, then you must learn to forgive, regardless of whether it is deserved.
Another principle for answered prayer is this: As much as possible, stay out of the place of temptation. This template for prayer in Luke 11 closes with the words “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (verse 4 NKJV).
There is no way to completely remove ourselves from temptation. There is no escaping it. It is like the bumper sticker that says, “Lead me not into temptation. I can find it myself.” We do a pretty good job of that. So the idea here is to pray, “Lord, don’t let me be tempted above my capacity to resist. Help me not to get myself into a situation where I will be vulnerable.”
A final principle for answered prayer can be found a few verses later in Luke 11, where Jesus said, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (verse 9 NLT).
Sometimes in prayer we ask for something once, perhaps twice.
Then, when we don’t get the answer in the affirmative, we conclude that it must not be God’s will. But Jesus was effectively saying, “Keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.”
As J. Sidlow Baxter once said, “Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers.”
So don’t give up.
Taken from my weekly column at World Net Daily.
We like power.
And it seems like we never have enough of it.
Get a group of guys together, throw a car into the mix, and it won’t be long until the subject of horsepower comes up. How much horsepower does that car have? How fast will it go?
Throughout history, it has been all about the acquiring of power. First it was manpower. Then there was steam power. Then there was nuclear power. But what we seem to lack most is willpower. It seems as though humanity can harness the powers of the universe, but we can’t control ourselves.
Some people say they find it hard to be a Christian. But I don’t think it’s hard to be a Christian; I think it’s impossible – without God’s power in my life. If I try to live the Christian life in self-effort and my own strength, I will fail miserably.
We all have been given a choice in life. We have a God who loves us and has a plan for us. Or, we can choose our own way. And we each decide for ourselves which of these two ways we will go.
Many times when people are young, they think they are indestructible. They think they are the one exception to the rule. And despite all the lives that have been ruined by drugs or drinking or other things, they still get chewed up and spit out by the same things that destroyed the lives of those who have gone before them.
Have you ever wondered why people try to hand you samples at the mall? I’m sorry to break this news, but it isn’t because they love you. It’s because they want your money. Marketers know that if they can give us one little taste, we will want more. For example, just sample one complimentary, hot, glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut, and the party is over. It is hard to eat just one. You have that little taste, and off you go.
The same is true in life. You have your first experiment with something, and you want more, more, more. Maybe it’s that first drink or that first hit off a joint or that first act of sexual promiscuity. You find out it is actually kind of exciting. It is actually kind of fun.
The Bible even acknowledges there is a pleasure in sin for a time. It happens at the front end. There is the excitement. There is the rush. There is the buzz. But then come the repercussions. Then come the long-term effects. Then come the results of that choice. And they are not pretty. They are miserable, in fact.
The Bible tells the story of a sad, tormented man who lived in a graveyard and had no one to help him. But Jesus was determined to reach this man. And as Christ was crossing the Sea of Galilee to the country of the Gadarenes, where this man was, a big storm came up. At one point, the storm became so violent that Jesus spoke to it and said, “Peace, be still!” (Mark 4:39 NKJV).
Jesus was determined to get to this man who needed him. He would not be stopped. And he will not be stopped in his pursuit of someone he loves. Jesus told the story of a shepherd who had 100 sheep, and one went astray. So did the shepherd say, “Oh well. Win a few, lose a few”? No, the shepherd left the 99 and went after the one sheep until he found it and, rejoicing, brought it back.
Have you ever lost something you love? You just got your new sunglasses – really nice ones. And, of course, you lose them. You can’t lose that junky pair with scratches all over the lens. It was the good pair you just bought. So what do you do? You search and you search until you find them.
That is how God is toward us. In his search for us, failure is not an option. He won’t give up.
Jesus knew that in the country of the Gadarenes, there was a sad, tormented man who had no help. He went to meet with that man to touch him and to transform his life. And what the culture could not do, Jesus did with one sentence. He cast out the demons who were possessing the man and sent them into a herd of pigs. Then the pigs proceeded to run themselves over the side of a cliff.
This man who once hung out in a cemetery was totally transformed. In fact, his transformation was so dramatic that he didn’t even look like the same person. So how did people react? Mark’s Gospel tells us, “And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone” (Mark 5:17 NLT).
I would have expected Mark to tell us, “The whole city came out to meet Jesus and fell on their knees and asked him to forgive them, too.” Or, “The whole city came out to meet Jesus and worshiped him for the transformation in this man’s life.” But instead, the whole city came out and begged Jesus to go away.
Why did they want him to go away? Because Jesus was bad for business. There was no more bringing home the bacon for them. So they wanted Jesus to leave.
And that is really the choice we have in life. We ask Jesus to either come in or go away. But if whatever it is we are doing is so bad that we don’t want Jesus to be a part of it, then we shouldn’t be doing it.
You see, our society has no answers. With all of our achievements and technology, we still can’t change the human heart. Only God has the power to do that.
Taken from my weekly column at World Net Daily.
I heard a story about a man who went out hunting and found a big brown bear. He had always wanted to shoot a bear, and he had just the right gun to do the job. So he got that bear in his sights and was beginning to squeeze the trigger. But just then, the bear turned around and said, “Excuse me. Isn’t it better to talk than to shoot? Why don’t we try to negotiate the matter?”
The hunter said, “Well, OK. I am open to that.”
The bear said, “What is it that you want exactly?”
The hunter said, “Well, what I want more than anything else is a fur coat. I am really cold.”
The bear said, “OK. That’s good. Now we are getting somewhere. How about if we reach some kind of a compromise? Let me tell you what I am looking for: I want a full stomach.”
So the hunter put down his gun, and he and the bear disappeared into the forest.
The bear emerged alone a little while later, and apparently the negotiations had been successful.
The hunter got his fur coat, and the bear got a full stomach.
That is how compromise works.
In the New Testament book of Revelation, Jesus had specific words for a church that was engaged in compromise. This church was located in the city of Pergamum, the capital of Asia. Pergamum was built on a rocky hill where the Mediterranean could be seen on a clear day. It was the cultural center of Asia at this time, renowned for its magnificent library that housed 200,000 rolls of parchment.
Another feature of Pergamum was the altar of Zeus, the largest and most famous altar of all – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. There were other gods in Pergamum that were worshiped, including Dionysius and Asclepius, called the savior god.
Asclepius was known as the god of healing and was actually symbolized by a snake. People came to this shrine from around the world to be healed. In the temple, there were nonpoisonous snakes slithering around, and those who hoped to be healed believed that if they were touched by a snake, they would be cured of whatever it was that was afflicting them. Imagine the scene: people lying around on the floor of this temple, with snakes crawling around on top of them. It sounds like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.
What a creepy place that must have been.
Also in Pergamum was the great temple erected to Caesar Augustus. Augustus means “of the gods.” This is where the Caesars not only were accepting worship, but were demanding it. Pergamum was a very spiritually dark place.
So here was Jesus’ assessment of the church in Pergamum:
“I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you have remained loyal to me. You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you there in Satan’s city.
“But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching.” (Revelation 2:13–15 NLT)
There were great Christians in Pergamum who were serving God, and Jesus actually commended them for it. But there also were a few problems developing. This church was in danger of compromising their faith.
Jesus referred to the Old Testament story of Balaam, a prophet who was hired by Balak to curse the Israelites. But as he was riding his donkey on the way to curse Israel, the donkey veered off the road, ramming Balaam’s leg against a wall. The donkey had seen an angel with sword drawn, standing in the road. Amazingly, the donkey actually began to speak to Balaam. In the end, Balaam did not curse the Israelites, but offered Balak an alternate plan to undermine them: have the Moabite women seduce the young men and draw them into idol worship. That plan worked.
The sin of Pergamum was the toleration of evil.
It is the mindset of, “Hey, I’m a Christian, but I can still do these things.” People want to go to heaven, but they still want to live like hell. Enter the teaching of Balaam. When you start to compromise, your spiritual life will begin to weaken.
Jesus also referred to the Nicolaitans. The philosophy of the Nicolaitans was one of liberty gone amok. It is the thinking that says, “Don’t be so uptight. Don’t be so legalistic. Could you just relax a little bit? God will understand. God will forgive you. God knows your heart.”
The problem is, that is how compromise works. Little things always turn into big things. And when compromise gets into your life, you will start going downhill.
Some people look at what the Bible says and think, Oh, I don’t like all of these rules. I don’t like all of these standards. I don’t like these thou-shalt-nots. I want to live the way I want to live. Yet they never stop and think that God gave us those rules, those standards and those truths to protect us from evil.
Sometimes we think that because we have confessed a sin, we will not have to face the repercussions of it. Yes, God will forgive us. But we still will have to face the aftermath of our own choices.
So remember the lesson from the church in ancient Pergamum. Don’t give in to comprimise.
Taken from my weekly column at World Net Daily.
Happiness is so much a part of the American mindset that it’s actually included in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But what is this happiness that so many Americans are pursuing? I think there’s a lot of truth in Eric Hoffer’s statement that “the search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”
You actually can become a very unhappy person as you’re trying to become a happy one. A Psychology Today article entitled “The Road to Happiness” pointed out, “Compared to 1960, the America of today has doubled spending power. … But what has this economic growth meant for morale? Over the same period, depression rates have soared. Teen suicide has tripled. Divorce rates have doubled.”
The Bible gives a completely different view of happiness than our culture does. According to the Scriptures, happiness isn’t something that should be sought directly; it is always something that results in seeking something else.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6 NIV). Being blessed, or happy (these words are used interchangeably in the Bible), is not based on circumstances. Rather, it is a deep, supernatural experience of contentedness, based on the fact that a person’s life is right with God. As our will is aligned with God’s, the rest of life will find its proper balance.
This flies in the face of popular wisdom that would essentially say that to be happy, you have to be successful, have the perfect physique, or be incredibly wealthy.
Psalm 1 gives us God’s definition of a happy person: “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night” (verses 1–2 NIV).
Notice that God begins with the negative rather than the positive. He tells us what we must not do before he tells us what we must do. He warns us of certain things that can be perilous to us spiritually, certain things that we must avoid. If we want to be truly happy, if we want to flourish, first we have to guard ourselves against the things that harm us.
We are living in a time when it seems like everyone is watching their weight. And as the years go by, it seems like we have more weight to watch. Of course, when we’re watching our weight, we become aware of things like calories and fat grams.
The same is true of our spiritual lives. We want to avoid the things that would hinder our spiritual growth. There are things we may engage in, things we may do, that could be detrimental to us spiritually. They may hold us back from the life God wants us to live.
Here are three questions you can ask about certain things and whether they will help you or hurt you spiritually:
1) Does it build you up spiritually? In other words, does it promote growth in Christian character? The question isn’t whether it’s allowable or you can get away with it. Rather, is it spiritually constructive?
2) Does it bring you under its power? Something may not be bad in and of itself, but too much of that thing could begin to control your life. It has an allure, and you can’t stop once you start. It’s an obsession in your life.
3) Do you have an uneasy conscience about it? There are certain areas that might be a greater problem for some than they would be for others. You need to ask yourself if that thing is hurting you spiritually.
The blessed, or happy man of Psalm 1 doesn’t “walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.”
In other words, he avoids certain things that can hurt him in his spiritual life.
Also notice the progression – or maybe I should say the regression – in that statement. First he is walking, then he is standing, and then he is sitting.
If you stop and think about it, that is how temptation works. You’re walking along, saying, “I’m not going to do that. I can control myself. I will know when to say no.” But then you slow down a little. Before you know it, you’re standing. Then you’re looking. And then you’re doing just what you said you wouldn’t do.
How did you get there? It all started with going near that thing. That is why the Bible tells us to avoid even the appearance of evil. Keep as much distance from it as possible.
Don’t get me wrong. To follow this principle is not to be overly restricted but to live in true freedom.
If you want to be a happy person, the Bible tells you how. If you want to be happy in the way the Bible defines happiness, if you want contentedness that comes from a relationship that is right with God, if you want your life to be in proper balance and harmony, then here is what God tells you that you must do. Don’t walk in step with the wicked. Don’t stand in the way that sinners take. Don’t sit in the company of mockers. Let your delight be in God’s Word. Meditate in it day and night.
It’s simple, but it takes commitment. Be consistent and regular, and there will be fruit in your life. And you will find happiness in the truest sense of the word.
Taken from my weekly column at World Net Daily.
Here in the United States we are obsessed with youth. We want to stay forever young, so we get nipped and tucked and suctioned and stretched and do whatever it takes to remain eternally youthful. But time marches on. And the body, which is compared in the Bible to a tent, simply wears out. However, the real you – your soul – lives on.
Ancient Greco-Roman mythology tells the story of Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, who fell in love with a young mortal named Tithonis. Aurora asked Zeus to give Tithonis eternal life, but she made a tragic oversight in her request. She forgot to ask that Tithonis remain forever young. Even though he lived on and on, Tithonis grew older and older, experiencing all the problems that go along with aging. The gift of living forever became a curse for Tithonis.
But is living forever actually a curse? That all depends. In a very real sense, you and I will live forever, because the real you isn’t the body you’re living in right now, and the real me is not the body I’m living in at the moment. Yes, certain physical features identify us. (In my case, a lack of hair probably is at the top the list.) But the real you, the real me, is the soul that lives inside each of us, the soul that one day will leave the body, go into eternity and live on in one of two destinations.
The Bible provides us with a glimpse into the afterlife in Luke 16, given by Jesus himself. It’s an eyewitness account of life beyond the grave. Although Jesus told many parables, this wasn’t one of them. It’s a real story about a real situation in which two people die. One was a believer and one was not. One owned everything yet possessed nothing. The other owned nothing yet inherited everything.
Prior to this story, Jesus had been addressing people who were obsessed with greed and materialism, people who were possessed by their possessions. This wasn’t a condemnation of all people who are wealthy, because being rich is neither a sin nor a virtue.
This story is about is a man who was possessed by possessions and had no time for God. He had too many other pursuits, and he just didn’t care about God. He lived in luxury. He lived flamboyantly. The Bible tells us that he “fared sumptuously” (Luke 16:19 NKJV). This means he held banquets every day. This guy was a party animal. He lived for parties. He lived for fun. He was a glutton. All he cared about was finding pleasure in life. And he not only had wealth, but he flaunted it. He wanted everyone to see how much he really had.
Meanwhile, outside of his gate was an impoverished man named Lazarus. He actually ate the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. In this culture, affluent people would wipe their hands on pieces of bread. Then they would take the bread and throw it on the ground. That bread is what Lazarus lived on.
Then Jesus’ story took a new twist as these two men passed from this life.
One was buried and the other was carried. Suddenly they would face the penalty for their sins or come to find what happens because of the forgiveness of sin.
The angels carried Lazarus to heaven, and it would appear that one of the purposes of angels is to usher believers into God’s presence when they die. The moment believers take their last breath on earth, they’ll take their first breath in heaven. That is the great hope and comfort for all Christians.
The other man, however, went into a place of judgment. He faced the consequences of his sin in a place called Hades. The Bible says he was in torment there, and the fact that the man spoke of torment seems to indicate that suffering is a very real thing in the hereafter.
The impossibility of crossing from one side to another, from a place of comfort “to Abraham’s side” (verse 22 NIV), where Lazarus was, to the place of torment, where this other man was, suggests that a person’s eternal destiny is settled here and now and not in some future world. Some people think they’ll work it out later. But they had better work it out now.
It would be like saying, “I’m going to board that plane, and once I’m in flight, I’ll determine where I’m going to go.”
No, you’re going where that plane goes. You work it out ahead of time when you buy your ticket. Once you have boarded the plane and it takes off, you are going to the predetermined destination.
The fact of the matter is that you determine now where you will spend eternity. There are no changes later. Do you know where you’re going when you die? According to the Bible, there are only two options: heaven or hell.
Often the question is asked, “How could a God of love permit such a place as hell to exist, let alone send people there?”
Asking a question like this reveals a lack of understanding of the love of God or the wickedness of sin. God’s love is a holy love, not a shallow sentiment.
The Scriptures tell us that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 NKJV). Sin is rebellion against God, and the Bible says we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (see Romans 3:23). God does not send people to hell; people send themselves there by refusing to heed God’s call and believe in his son. These are people who have made a deliberate choice to not believe.
C.S. Lewis wrote that “indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
You are headed for one of two destinations in eternity, and you determine where you will go. The last thing God wants is to see you go to that place called hell. He loves you. That is why he took drastic measures by sending his own son to die on the cross in your place. He offers you pardon and forgiveness if you will turn from your sin and turn to him by faith.
But if you reject his pardon, if you slap away his loving and gracious offer of forgiveness, then you will have no one to blame in that final day but yourself.
Taken from my weekly column at World Net Daily.
I heard about a large redwood tree that had actually stood for some 400 years and had survived lightning strikes on 14 separate occasions, not to mention storms and numerous earthquakes. But one day, without any warning, this majestic tree came crashing to the ground. As investigators looked into what brought it down, they discovered that little beetles had slowly eaten their way through the fiber of this impressive tree until it suddenly and tragically fell.
We have our guard up when it comes to the big things in life. We are ready and braced for the earthquakes, the lightning and the so-called big sins of life. Meanwhile, the little bugs of compromise eat their way through the fiber of our lives. We lower our guard here. We bring our standards down there. And then, day by day, it catches up with us, and we start crashing to the ground.
The Bible clearly warns that in the last days, people will fall away from the faith. In fact, it is a sign of the last days (see 1 Timothy 4:1).
The question is this: Could you or I ever become one of these casualties? Yes, we could. We have the potential, and sadly, even the propensity to sin. It’s there inside all of us. We are born with it, and that combustible nature of sin lies within us. We must always be aware of that. That is why we must always keep our guard up.
I had the opportunity to observe lions up close some years ago when I was in Africa. We watched them from the truck we were in, but our guide warned us that if we stepped foot outside the vehicle, we wouldn’t live to tell about it. Those lions looked so innocent and lovable. But they also were very powerful, and they would pounce on us if we put ourselves in a place of vulnerability.
That is how sin is sometimes. It can look as though it won’t really harm us. We think we can handle it. And that makes us even more vulnerable. When you know your vulnerabilities, you take extra measures to protect yourself from what is harmful.
But when you take an attitude that says, “I would never fall to that,” be careful. When you feel the most secure in yourself, when you think your spiritual life is the strongest, your doctrine is the soundest, and your morals are the purest, then you should be the most on your guard and the most dependent on God. Your greatest virtues also can become your greatest vulnerabilities.
The Bible says, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NLT). You always must keep your guard up until the very end.
Consider some familiar people of the Bible who fell in the very areas in which they allegedly were the strongest. When we think of Abraham, for example, we immediately think of faith. Yet we know that Abraham had lapses in his faith on a number of occasions.
Moses was identified in the Scriptures as the meekest man on earth, yet ironically, it was pride and presumption that dealt him a fateful blow.
We know the incredible, supernatural exploits of the mighty Samson, yet it was natural desires that brought him down.
The very area in which Simon Peter thought he was the strongest was actually where his weakness turned out to be. Peter had been so sure of himself. But then he fell, just as Jesus predicted he would.
That is why we need to keep our guard up. These examples should stand as warnings for us that we must never rest on our laurels. The apostle Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. … Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12–14 NLT).
We need to not only forget the mistakes we’ve made, but in some ways, we also need to forget some of our great victories. Let me explain. It doesn’t mean that we forget what God has done for us. It doesn’t mean that we forget the great things that have happened. But we can’t live in the past. Yes, it’s great what God did yesterday. But what about today? And what about tomorrow?
During a military campaign, a young captain was recommended to Napoleon for promotion to a higher rank because of his great courage on the battlefield. When Napoleon asked why they suggested the captain, one of his commanders explained the unusual courage he had displayed on the battlefield a few days earlier. Because of what the young captain had done, a great victory was won.
“That’s good,” the general said. “But what did he do the next day?”
We have to keep moving forward spiritually, because the minute we stop moving forward will be the minute we start moving backward. And we will begin to backslide. Backsliding is the opposite of spiritual progression. If you are not moving forward, then you are going backward – not all at once, and not overnight.
When you start relaxing your grip, you will start to slip. So keep moving forward, lest you lower your guard and cave in to compromise.
Taken from my weekly column at World Net Daily.
When you are building a house, the most important time is not when you hang the wallpaper or paint the exterior. The most important time is when the foundation is laid, because if that isn’t done properly, all the rest is of no consequence.
The most important time in our lives, in many ways, is the time of our youth. It’s there that we set our course. Habits are developed. Attitudes are formed. Decisions are made that affect us for the rest of our lives, such as our career choice and whom we will marry. Seeds are sown in our youth that are reaped in the years ahead.
The Old Testament book of Daniel gives us some role models for youth: Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishae, and Azariah (also known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego). These four young Jewish men had been carried away captive to Babylon.
Historians estimate that Daniel and his friends were teenagers, somewhere between the ages of 14 to 19. Yet they took an incredible stand for what they knew was right. How easily they could have been sucked into the Babylonian system and rationalized their behavior by saying, “When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians do.” But they stood for what they knew was right.
King Nebuchadnezzar had designed a plan whereby the most promising of his captives should serve in his courts. He asked that the prime candidates of the newly captured Israelites would be brought into his court, those who were of the greatest intellect, those who were physically attractive, those who had promise.
The prophet Isaiah had warned this very thing would happen. Speaking to King Hezekiah, he said, “The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Isaiah 35:6–7 NIV).
It appears that Nebuchadnezzar wanted to indoctrinate these young Jewish men and even convert them to the ways of Babylon. They were to go through an intensive three-year training course in what we might call the University of Babylon. They were to eat from the king’s table, where the finest food in the world was served. They would have had all of the luxuries of life. It was Nebuchadnezzar’s goal to separate them from their roots, from their spiritual upbringing and from the things their parents had taught them. Then he would mold them into his own image of sorts. At least, that was his plan.
Nebuchadnezzar even had their names changed, which is interesting, because each of their names originally contained some form of the name Jehovah, the name of God. Daniel’s name meant “God is my judge,” while his new name, Belteshazzar, meant “the god that Bel favors,” referring to a false God. Hananiah’s name meant “beloved of the Lord,” but his name was changed to Shadrach, meaning “illuminated by the sun god.” Mishael’s name meant “who is like God?” But his name was changed to Meshach, a reference to the moon god. Lastly, Azariah’s name, which meant “the LORD is my help,” was changed to Abed-Nego, which meant “the servant of Nego,” who was another false god.
Nebuchadnezzar could change their names, but he could not change their hearts. These four young men could have allowed themselves to be sucked into this system. Instead, it made them firmer in their resolve. Rather than weakening them, it strengthened them. This is amazing, considering they were just 14 to 19 years of age.
Their world, as they knew it, literally changed overnight. They were taken away from the security of family and friends and placed in an environment that was hostile to their faith.
Maybe, like Daniel and his friends, something has taken place in your life that has shaken you to the core. Maybe you have recently moved. Perhaps your husband or wife has left you. Something has shaken up your life. I want you to know that God has not abandoned you. God has not forgotten about you. God is with you, and he will see you through it.
How easily Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego could have been bitter against God, saying, “Lord, this isn’t fair. We didn’t sin against you; it was our parents. It was our grandparents and great-grandparents. It isn’t our fault. Why are we reaping the results of their sin?
There are people today who blame all their problems on the generations before them. They claim the reason they are so messed up is because of their mother or father. They want to blame everything on someone or something else. No one wants to take responsibility for their problems.
Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego could have done that. But they recognized that God was with them. They were confident that God would see them through. They had their values. They had their convictions. And they were determined to move forward, because they had God to serve and a stand to make.
Later God raised up Daniel in a singular way, and he was beloved by the Lord. Daniel continued to be faithful to God through Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, as well as during the reign of Cyrus, who overthrew Nebuchadnezzar.
And God gave Daniel favor with these prominent leaders of the world.
It all started with a stand Daniel made early in his life. It was there the die was cast. The course was charted. The path was followed.
In the same way, you decide what principles you will live by and what road you will take. God said in Deuteronomy 30:19, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (NIV).
God has given you a choice. You can throw your life away. Or, you can give your life to God and say, “I want to be someone of purpose and direction.”
Such were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego.
Taken from my weekly Column at World Net Daily.