Climbing in prayer to the snake free zone

Give me a beautiful mountain trail, a backpack, some water bottles, and a several mile hike and I am a happy man!  I love the mountains and vacation in Colorado almost every year.

People ask me, “what do you do all the time out there in the wilderness?” My reply, which often gets strange looks is “I walk around a look at God’s creation.”   The strange looks reinforce that the mountains aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there is something magnificent about them.

There are also some very Biblical things you can learn from them.  The Bible speaks much about the mountains.  As a matter of fact, God’s dwelling place is described as a mountain.

  • Isa 57:15  For thus says the high and exalted One…, “I dwell on a high and holy place.
  • Psa 48:1 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, In the city of our God, His holy mountain.
  • When we draw near to God in prayer it is seen as ascending His mountain.  Ps 24:3  Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place?
  • When people find Him they are seen as going up to His Mountain to learn from Him.  Isa 2:3  And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

The Snake Free Zone

“Prayer plumes the wings of God’s young eaglets so that they may learn to mount above the clouds. Prayer brings inner strength to God’s warriors and sends them forth to spiritual battle with their muscles firm and their armor in place.” –Charles H. Spurgeon

There is another parallel issue seen in ascending earthly mountains. When you get up to about 7000-9000 feet something happens that I like very much.  You enter the snake free zone, hallelujah!    I hate snakes!  When I am on trails and see a snake in my path my heart always skips a beat.  It doesn’t matter if it is a small harmless snake or a large poisonous one, I can’t stand snakes!

The devil is described in Scripture as a snake (Gen 3:1-4, 15, Rev 12:9).  He comes at us like a snake, to accuse, discourage, and tempt us.  When he comes one of the best things we can do is climb to the high places in God, and prayer and worship are how we climb. They are powerful weapons against the enemy.  This is why James tells us that in the process of resisting the devil we must submit and draw near to God.

Jas 4:7-8 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  8  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

The enemy and his demonic forces are relegated to darkness (Jud 1:6).  When the enemy comes to accuse and trip us up, he comes in darkness and we can fall into it. Mat 6:23…. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  

The sun shines brighter in the mountains because of the higher elevation. When we are challenged by the temptations and accusations of the enemy,  the best thing we can do is climb higher.  We climb to higher realms of light.   1Ti 6:15-16…the King of kings and Lord of lords,  (16)  who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.  When we come closer to God’s light the enemy can’t stand the altitude, and he must flee as James said (Jas 4:7-8).

There is often a problem, however.  Many times I don’t feel like climbing.  Especially when I have been out several days.  When I go ahead and overcome my fatigue and climb anyway I am always invigorated.  The same is true spiritually.  When I am worn out spiritually and emotionally I often don’t feel like climbing, but I can’t listen to that.

One of the best Psalms that speaks of this process is Psalms 73.  I encourage everyone to read it regularly.  David is overcome by dark thoughts that seemed to overwhelm him.  He had stupid thoughts like all of us have at times, but he didn’t stay that way.  He climbed the mountain of God until he hit the snake free zone where there was clear air.  When we climb into God’s higher zone we drag the enemy and all of our stupid thoughts into the brighter light (snake free zone).

Consider what the Scriptures say will happen when we climb higher into the presence of God

  • Enemies perish  Psa 9:2-3 I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.  (3)  When my enemies turn back, They stumble and perish before You (KJV Thy presence) 
  • Stability returns as God’s joy comes to us –  Psa 16:8-11 I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  (9)  Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely…(11)  You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
  • We are hidden from the plots and strife of men Psa 31:19-20 How great is Your goodness, Which You have stored up for those who fear You, Which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You…(20)  You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man; You keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues.
  • Determination is renewed and joy is restored –  Psa 51:10-13   Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.  (11)  Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.  (12)  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. 
  • Times of refreshing comeAct 3:19  “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;
  • We see God’s glory afresh in His presence 2Co 3:18  But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

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Burger King or King Jesus

“God is not a product to be pushed, but a King to be obeyed” Gregory Lewis.      

I had the great privilege recently of hearing Dave Richards preach a message about Christ’s Lordship in our lives and it’s challenge to consumer Christianity.  As I listened I couldn’t help but remember a friend telling me a sad story about people he had once looked up to as a young disciple.  They had drifted into a consumer mentality regarding their faith.

Like Paul’s companion Demas, they had once been “co-workers” who served on the front line of Kingdom expansion (Col 4:4, Philemon 1:24).  Sadly they had abandoned the front lines for an easier way (2 Tim 4:10).  They had begun to casually attended a church whose motto was “Christians should have choices” referring to their 3 short convenient services.  My friend walked up to greet them and overheard their conversation about the church, “you can sleep as late as you want and not have to worry about it.  You can show up to any service that is convenient to you.”  My friend was shocked because in earlier days he had looked up to them as examples.  The tears in his voice revealed his deep disappointment, “this isn’t what following Jesus is about! It isn’t about our convenience!”

It reminded me of a church leader who began to take a more convenient approach to services with a newspaper advertisement, “Express Worship, 45 Minutes, Guaranteed!” The ad went on with the description, “Three upbeat hymns…quick announcements…23-25 minute sermons.”  The logic was to try to attract Christians who were looking for a better deal and unbelievers looking for convenience.

There is no calling to be a consumer of Christian goods and services. There is only the call to follow Jesus. It is always disastrous to turn Christianity into a product.

I can’t help but think of these types of approaches in light of the 25 calls of Jesus in the Gospels to “Follow Me.”  In 20 of those calls He included some aspect of denying ourselves and giving up things in order to follow (Lk 9:23-24, 14:26-27, Mt 10:38-39, 16:22-25, 16:22-25,  Mk 8:34-38, Jn 12:25-26).

While there is nothing “holy” about long services, approaching God’s Kingdom with the first priority of our convenience can be a problem.   After all Ezra stood read the Bible for over 6 hours on a podium in a corporate gathering (Neh 8:3-4), and Paul drug out a message for several hours until midnight causing a young man to fall asleep and fall out of a window.  Acts 20:7-10  On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight… (9)  And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead. 

Burger King or Christ the King

I remember an advertising campaign for Burger King when I was young that captures the heart of this form of consumer Christianity.   Burger King was trying to cut into the market share of McDonald’s. They thought they would appeal to the idea of consumer choice which is a prized virtue. They came up with the great advertising jingle, “Have it your way.”  Some of you may remember the song, “hold the pickles hold the lettuce, special order’s don’t upset us, all we ask it that you let us have it your way.”

While churches should be seeking numerical growth, should we pragmatically seek it at all costs?  We want to be people who are faithful to the Great Commission, not the best deal.  The Matthew 28:18-19 Great Commission is to “make followers of Jesus, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded.”  Growth should come with corresponding obedience to God’s word, not a have it your way mentality.

It works a little like raising a child. We must show great patience born out of love, which is “patient, kind, and full of gentleness” as we help people learn how to find, and walk with Jesus (1 Cor 13:1-7). Along the way, they have the great security of unconditional love while learning the maturity of “considering the interest of others ahead of their own” (Phil 2:3-8).

While there is an incredible great life that can only be found through Jesus we need to remind ourselves what Jesus consistently said about finding that life, “If you want to find My life, you have to first lose your life for My sake” (Lk 9:23-24, 14:26-27, Mt 10:38-39, 16:22-25, 16:22-25, Mk 8:34-38, Jn 12:25-26).  This is how we mature. If not we will perpetuate an “entitlement mentality” that is more like Burger King, not Christ the King.

Things that facilitate entitlement mentalities in the church

  • Numerical growth at all cost.
  • Membership without following Jesus.  God designed His church to be people who are following Jesus. The actual spiritual condition of members is important.  The spiritual component of Biblical church membership is real salvation (1Cor 12:13).
  • Ignorance of Biblical expectations of membership.  Membership without His expectations becomes membership with entitlements.
  • Having entitled people in influential positions. If you put entitled people into places of influence they will exercise their influence to “have it your way.”  The church isn’t about our way, but the King’s way.
  • Avoiding the challenges of difficult issues or difficult people.  While we don’t want to pick fights we also do not want to allow bullying, manipulation, or a culture of entitlement to grow through entitled people.  Additionally if we avoid problems they usually don’t go away. They only get bigger and more people end up getting hurt by them.

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“Saved” Without Following Jesus?

Are you saved…I’m saved…I think he is saved…let’s get ’em saved…what is salvation?  What does it mean? What are we saved from and what are we saved for?  Is it simply believing a message about Jesus and asking Him to forgive us which guarantees entrance to heaven when we die?

The most common definition in the Bible regarding someone who is “saved” is that he or she is a person “In Christ.”  That expression is found 164 times in Paul’s letters.  Paul himself said that his whole aim in life, and future, was being “found in Him not having a righteousness of my own” (Phil 3:8-10).  Paul further said, “as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, then walk in Him”  Colossians 2:6 

Peter said there “is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12).  What distinguishes God’s people as “saved” is not simply a belief, but following Jesus and walking in Him. The dominate ideas of salvation today has little connection to following Jesus or being in Him.

In the Gospels Jesus gave 25 clear calls to “follow Me.”  In 20 of those 25 calls there were clear calls to lay one’s life down, and turn away from things in order to follow Him.  Only 4 times did He say to “believe in Me.”  The dominate ideas of salvation today has little connection to turning away form things and “laying down your life” to follow Jesus. Yet following Him should bring obvious change in people’s lives.  Why is there so little connection to being saved and following Jesus?

Does the gospel we preach produce followers of Jesus or consumers of Christian products and services.

A Deceptive Line

There is a deceptive line I think people cross which causes salvation to take on an unbiblical definition. I know this based on my own salvation experience. I was raised in a secular environment.   While I was a hard partying college football player God got my attention and I gave my life to Christ just shy of my 20th birthday and became “saved.”  For 3 months I followed Jesus, walked with Him, and my life was being changed so drastically that my parents felt that I had become involved in some sort of a cult.

Then at the end of the summer I went back to college and for about 8-10 weeks I slowly began to turn back to my old ways.  I remember the justification in my mind, “I’m saved, Jesus is real, my life is going to be about Him, I cannot deny His reality, but for right now it is too hard to follow Him so I will wait until I get out of school.”  I felt myself drifting to the dominant idea of salvation, a transaction that assured my entrance into heaven when I die without actually living with, and following Him right now.  I was beginning to view following Him as kind of an optional part of salvation.

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Fortunately by the grace of God I watched a popular preacher on a Sunday night television show when my roommates were gone and it busted the false idea of salvation that I was drifting towards.  The false assurance I was living in was exposed,  I repented, began to follow Him again, and never looked back.”

Did you receive Jesus at the point of your need or at the point of His will?  If you receive Him at the point of your need then once the need is met you quit following.  If you receive Him at the point of His will then you follow Him your whole life.

When we divorce salvation from being in and following Jesus we are redefining it from God’s design.  Salvation, righteousness, and sanctification are what the Bible refers to as “In Christ.”  While being in Christ is a standing it is also to be the actual state of our lives.  You need to be in Christ if you are in Christ.  You should follow Jesus if you follow Jesus.  Sounds crazy but we need to break the false logic in evangelical and charismatic circles about salvation.

I once heard someone ask, “if you could go to heaven when you die, be assured of deliverance from the consequences of sin, have peace, joy, and have it all without Jesus would you do it?”  If salvation is just acceptance of the doctrine of Jesus but not Jesus Himself, irrespective of any real change in life, what motivates us to follow Jesus and walk in the great commission of Mt 28:18-19 “make disciples… baptizing them…teaching them to walk in all He commanded”?

This unbiblical type of salvation allows people to live without Him while at the same time using Him when they need something and having an eternal assurance when they die.  If we are “saved” by giving mental ascent to a belief about Jesus while spending our life on earth ignoring Him how can we think there is anything right about it?  If we don’t love Him or agree to live the way He desires now will a change of scenery in heaven change that?  Will we want to be with Him then but not now?  Don’t we want to be with Him now and isn’t loving Him a large part of living for Him?  Paul said it a lot stronger than that. 1 Corinthians 16:22-23  If anyone doesn’t love the Lord, let him be cursed! Our Lord, come!  (23)  May the good will of the Lord Jesus be with you.

If a God-centered life is too much now how will we be able to take a full dose of Him in heaven?  Granted we will have new bodies, but we are called to love him and live for Him now. Ephesians 2:10  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

I was recently sitting with a famous spiritual father in the faith who was 86 years old. He was a major mover and shaker in the charismatic renewal and it was a privilege to meet him. Several times he cried and echoed the important reality of salvation, “it is relational with Jesus.  That is what Christianity is!”  Christianity without following Jesus is really a Christianity without Jesus.  I like how the NLT states this reality.

Col. 1:28–29 NLT So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.

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