Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Touching Eternity Today

     ... fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith ... (Hebrews 12:2a)

As Christians, we have the awesome privilege of being able to walk with the Creator of the universe and experience His supernatural power in our lives on a daily basis. In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The present is the point at which time touches eternity.” It is as we touch eternity that we begin to walk in the fullness of God, and we touch eternity as we fix our eyes on Jesus.     

We Have Been Destined for Eternity

We have been created as eternal beings, and although we are currently living in time, the Lord has destined us for eternity. John 3:16 says:

     For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

One common misconception about eternal life is that it begins once our lives on earth have ended. Another misunderstanding is that eternity is merely time with no end. To better understand this, let us briefly distinguish time from eternity. Eternity is a completely different dimension than time. Eternity existed before time began; it will exist even after time has ended, and it exists completely independent of time. God dwells in the dimension of eternity, and although we are currently living in time, He has called us to walk with Him and experience Him now. Ephesians 2:6 says that God has

     ... raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in heavenly places.

These heavenly places exist in eternity. For us to be able to walk with the Lord and experience the fullness of all that He has for us, we must be able to live beyond time and touch eternity.

In another verse, John 10:10, Jesus says,

     The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.

The original Greek word used for “abundantly” in this verse is “perissos,” which means “beyond, exceedingly above, or excessive.” This is the kind of life that Jesus came to give us. In Him we have life which is beyond, above, and in excess of what is natural. This is supernatural life, and we access it when we touch eternity. Eternal life does not start when we die – it starts now.
The thief in this verse is obviously the devil, and he has set out to rob us of our supernatural life. Peter further warned us about this thief:

     Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. I Peter 5:8

The devil’s primary goal is to cause a separation between the Lord and us. He knows that if he can divert our focus from the Lord, then he can stifle our supernatural life. One of the ways he does this is by trying to distract us with an unhealthy perspective on either the past or the future. The Lord dwells in eternity, and the only time when we can truly walk with Him is the present. If the enemy can distract us from the present, then he can hinder our relationship with the Lord.

Dangers of Living in the Past

            One of the devil’s common schemes to distract us from the present is to divert our focus to the past. Let us examine a little more closely some of his means of accomplishing this:
In Revelation 12:10, the devil is called the “accuser of our brethren,” and accusation is one of his primary tools to enslave us to the past. He constantly reminds us of our sins and mistakes. There are many people who can never pray or worship the Lord without being attacked by feelings of guilt or unworthiness. We need to understand that deliberate sin can hinder the Lord from moving in our lives the way He desires, but once we have confessed the sin and turned back to the Lord, He forgives and forgets the sin. I John 1:9 says,

     If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Once the Lord has forgiven us of our sins, they are gone. He will never bring them up to us again. King David wrote about this in Psalm 103:12:

     As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

David used a very important analogy in this scripture. There is no way to measure the distance between the east and the west. It does not matter how far a person travels east, unless he turns around, he will never be going west. That is not true of north and south, however. If a person begins to travel south, he will eventually begin to head north without ever turning around. Just as there is no way to measure how far the east is from the west, there is no way to measure how far our confessed sins are from the Lord. The Bible actually tells us that He will forgive our iniquity and our sins He will remember no more. (See Jeremiah 31:34). Since the Lord has forgotten our confessed sins, if we are ever reminded of them, we can be assured that it is an accusation from the devil.

Past Offenses

Not only can memories of past sins hinder us in our lives today, but memories of past offenses can as well. These offenses can range from someone simply saying something harsh to us, to somebody cheating us out of a large sum of money, or to something even worse. We might have been completely innocent and still fallen prey to someone else’s cruel and wicked acts. Whatever the case, we have been guaranteed that offenses are going to come. In Luke 17:1, Jesus said,

     It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they come!

We know that we are going encounter offenses, and both the Lord and the enemy have plans for them. The Lord’s plan is to use them to mature us and draw us closer to Him, but the enemy’s plan is use them to cause us pain and turmoil for years to come. Many of us spend countless hours reliving situations that happened in the past, and thinking of how we would handle things differently if we could be there again. If we are continually dwelling on past situations, the enemy has us in bondage to the past.

 Probably most of us have played the game where a group of people sits in a circle and the first person whispers something in the ear of the person next to him. That person in turn whispers what he believes to be the same thing in the ear of the person next to him. Everyone in the circle takes their turn repeating what was just said to them, and by the time the words have been whispered in the ear of the last person, they rarely even resemble the words originally spoken. This is a good illustration of what happens when we continually dwell on past situations. Little by little the situation changes until we believe things happened differently than they really did. We almost never remember things exactly the way they actually happened, especially if it involves our being offended. If we dwell on past offenses, we are keeping the situation alive and harboring an open wound, but if we release the offense to the Lord, He will take it and turn it into a blessing.

The Past Can Never Be Changed

The past is completely frozen in time. Nothing in the past can be changed. Not even the Lord can change the past, but if we respond to it correctly, He will use it for our good. Romans 8:28 says,

     And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Jeremiah 29:11 says,

     ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.

Good Memories of the Past

Not only can the devil rob of us of our life in the present by reminding us of how bad our past has been, but he can also accomplish this by reminding us of how great our past has been. This is probably one of our adversary’s most subtle schemes. On their journey to the Promised Land, the children of Israel were required to gather the manna every day. Any manna that was saved from one day to the next would spoil. The very thing the Lord provided to nourish them on Monday was harmful to them on Tuesday. This was because He desired to provide them with a fresh impartation of Himself everyday. The enemy’s intention is for us to be spiritually malnourished today because our focus is on how the Lord fed us so well yesterday. How strong would a marriage be if the couple did not continually communicate with each other, but only relished in the fact that they had a nice wedding? The Lord wants the couple to grow in their love for each other and in their ability to communicate with each other every day, and this can only happen as they focus on where they are presently. In the same way, the Lord wants to constantly move in our lives in fresh, new ways, but the devil wants us to settle for the great things that have already happened so that we miss the great things that the Lord is doing now.
There is certainly nothing wrong with being mindful of the great things the Lord has done for us, but if that memory is not strengthening our faith today, then it is not accomplishing the Lord’s will for us. In Psalm 103:2-5, David said,

     Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; 
     Who pardons all your iniquities; Who heals all your diseases; 
     Who redeems your life from the pit; Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;                 
     Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.    
     (emphasis mine)

We should rejoice that the Lord has done those things for us in the past, but this passage tells us that the Lord has not stopped. Let us determine to never settle for just the great things we have seen in the past, but let us expect them everyday and experience God in new ways in the present. In Philippians 3, the apostle Paul talks about this. He begins in verse 4 talking about his past accomplishments, but goes on to say that he counts all those as loss. In verses 13-14 he says,

     Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 
     I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The apostle Paul could have easily rested in the things that he had already seen in God and stopped moving forward. However, he chose to forget what was behind him and to reach forward. He chose to forget the fact that he had been a murderer, the fact that he had been stoned, and the fact that he had raised the dead. He was determined not to let anything from the past hinder him in his pursuit of the Lord. Let us have this same resolve to press on to the fullness of all that God has for us.

A Healthy Perspective of the Future

Not only does the enemy use the past to attempt to distract us from our life in the Lord, but he also uses the future. Let us look at some of the ways he does this. We must start by understanding that a healthy perspective of the future is important, and it is something that we should cultivate. For example, it is wisdom to plan financially for the future, and it is crucial to set clear, specific goals for the future. However, we must understand that the first step to accomplishing those goals is made in the present. In the same chapter of The Screwtape Letters from which I quoted earlier, Lewis explains that the devil wants “a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered to them in the present.” If our perspective of the future is not having a positive effect on our lives in the present, it can rob us of what the Lord has for us. 

Lies About the Future

Another of the enemy’s schemes is to lie to us about the future. His lies may be intended to inflict fear or even a deceptive discontentment .The devil knows that he can indefinitely paralyze us if he can convince us to sit back and wait for more desirable circumstances before we draw closer to the Lord or embrace His calling on our lives. He will use such lies as, “just as soon as I am married, then I will be happy,” “just as soon as I have a certain amount of money in the bank, then I will fully press in to the Lord, ” or “once I am in full time ministry, then I will be able to function in my calling.” Jesus offers us life in abundance right now, and He has given us all that we need to live that life. II Peter 1:3-4 says,

     seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 
     For by these He has granted to us precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (emphasis mine).

Fear of the Future

Another of the enemy’s common tactics is to keep us in fear of things that have not yet happened. This also produces an unhealthy perspective of the future. The fear of the future is one of the enemy’s most common tactics, and it has enslaved many people. Although we will never fully know the future, we can be confident in the love of God that will keep us through whatever we face. Not only will the Lord preserve us, but He has also called us to overcome and have victory through all that we face. Billy Graham once said, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.” The Lord is not the least bit concerned about what the future holds, and we should not be either. In John 16:33 Jesus said,
     These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.


As long as we are dwelling in time, we will only be able to walk with the Lord from our position in the present. We should be thankful for all that the Lord has done in the past, and we can certainly look forward to the great things that He will do in the future, but those things must only be used to build our faith and strengthen our relationship with the Lord. Let us determine not to be bound anymore by the past or by the future. Rather, let us commit them fully to the Lord and press on toward the high calling of God for our lives. Romans 8:37-39 says:

     But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 
     For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 
     nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why is Israel So Important?

We are alive in a time when one of the primary focal points across the globe for nearly a century has been the nation of Israel. Everything from the nightly news to international politics is influenced by this one tiny nation. This nation that is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey occupies more attention across the world than other nations many times its size. Why is this? Why is Israel so important? Why have so many people throughout history wanted to destroy this nation? Why is understanding his or her foreign policy toward Israel so important when choosing a candidate for President here in America? Why is so much of the Bible written to and about the people of this nation?

These are questions that many have pondered and even debated, but many people still do not understand the current, historic and futuristic significance of Israel and the Jewish people. To best answer these questions, we need to start by going back in time about 4,000 years. The Jewish people descended directly from Abraham, and to truly understand Abraham, we need to consult the pages of the Bible. Abraham is first mentioned in Genesis 11, and he is continually discussed throughout much of Scripture. He was a citizen of the the land of Ur of the Chaldeans, and the Lord called him to leave that land and follow him to a land that would be for him and his descendants. Genesis 12:1-3 says:

     The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father's family, and go to a land that I will show you.
     I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.
     I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you." (NLT)

A few chapters later, in Genesis 15:5, the Lord told Abram (the Lord would later change his name to Abraham):

     "... Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That's how many descendants you will have!" (NLT)

The Lord promised Abraham a son who would be the first of these descendants, and in Genesis 21, this son, Isaac, was born. As time passed, Isaac grew and married Rebekah, and together they had two sons: Esau and Jacob. Esau became the father of a nation called the Edomites, and Jacob also became the father of a great nation. In Genesis 28 Isaac blesses Jacob and says to him:

     "May God Almighty bless you and give you many children. And may your descendants multiply and become many nations. May God pass on to you and your descendants the blessings He promised to Abraham. May you own this land where you are now living as a foreigner, for God gave this land to Abraham." (NLT)

Later in the same chapter, the Lord visited Jacob in a dream and confirmed the words of Isaac. Let us read verses 13-15. The Lord says:

     ..."I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 
     Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions - to the west and east, to the north and south. And all the families of earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.
     What's more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I promised you." (NLT)

Later in his life, Jacob, like his grandfather, had an encounter with the Lord that resulted in his name being changed. In Genesis 35:10-12 the Lord visits Jacob and says to him:

     "Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel." So God renamed him Israel.
     Then God said "I am El-Shaddai - 'God Almighty." Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! 
     And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and you descendants after you."

Just as Isaac told Jacob, and the Lord later confirmed, Jacob became the father of many nations, and through his son, Judah, his descendants carried on the name "Israel." Through this bloodline King David was born, and through this bloodline, the Messiah, Jesus, was born. There is much in the nation of Israel's history that we obviously cannot cover in the post. However, let us fast forward to the year 1948. Prior to this, the people of Israel were scattered all over the world and there were numerous attempts to annihilate them. Not least of which was the horrendous attempt of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime to exterminate the Jewish people through the Holocaust. However, in 1948, Israel declared their sovereignty and settled in part of the land the Lord promised Abraham and Jacob about 4,000 years ago. In spite of the efforts to destroy the Jewish people, after thousands of years, they actually became a recognized nation. The Lord has kept His promise to protect and preserve the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Since that time, the nation of Israel has dominated much of the world's attention. As I have already mentioned, in terms of land size, Israel is relatively small, but their role in the world is immensely important. The promises the Lord made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still true today. The Lord has promised to bless those that bless Israel and curse those who treat her with contempt. That applies to every nation of the world, including the United States, China and the powerful Arab nations that neighbor Israel. For the most part, the United States has treated Israel favorably, and history proves that America has experienced blessing because of it. If America begins to treat Israel unfavorably, the blessing that is tied to that favor will begin to diminish. Again, this is true of every nation of the world. That is how seriously the Lord takes the promise He made to a friend of his 4,000 years ago.

Along these same lines, the land that the Lord promised Israel will play a major part in the future of our world. The actual land that the current nation of Israel occupies in only a part of the land the Lord promised Abraham and Jacob. We read in Genesis 28:15:

     What's more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I promised you." (NLT)

We know that God is not a man that He should lie (see Numbers 23:19, I Samuel 15:29), and He is not slack about any of His promises (see II Peter 3:9), so He is still going to give the Jewish people everything He promised Abraham and Jacob. This includes the land that He originally promised them. Modern day Israel is bordered by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The land they were originally promised includes part of present day Egypt, Syria and Iraq, and it includes all of Jordan and Lebanon. This being the case, Israel will obviously play a major role on the future international political scene.

These are some of the reasons Israel is so important. The Lord made some clear promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He is going to fulfill them. Although much of the world either isn't aware of them, or they may have lost sight of them, these promises are still a reality. Because of these promises, Israel occupies so much of the world's attention. Israel is extremely important to the Lord, but let me clarify what this does not mean. Even though the Lord made irrevocable promises to Abraham and his descendants, this does not give Israel a "free pass" in terms of salvation or international politics. In regard to salvation, Jesus is the only way to the Father. Salvation is totally tied to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection and whether or not we as individuals receive Him as our Lord and Savior. This is true for Jew and Gentile (see Galatians 3:28), and no one, whether Jew or Gentile comes to the Father unless they recognize that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (see John 14:6). In regard to international politics, the Lord requires justice, mercy and humility (see Micah 6:8). Whether Jew or Gentile, the Lord's standards are the same. The Lord does not grade on a curve, and His standard has always been Jesus. Again, there are no free passes, but Israel is very dear to the heart of the Lord because Abraham and his descendants are very dear to the heart of the Lord.

As we move closer to the end of this age, the intensity surrounding the nation of Israel will increase, and we need to understand the important role Israel will play as we move forward. Israel is important because of the promises the Lord made to His friends 4,000 years ago. The Lord will bless those who bless Israel, and He will curse those who treat her with contempt. The Lord made specific promises to Abraham and Jacob in regard to the Land He had reserved for them, and He will fulfill that promise. Israel holds a special place in God's heart, and that is why Israel is so important.