SCATTERED BEAMS

SCATTERED BEAMS

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Ps.16:11

I was re-introduced to the writings of Jonathan Edwards in 1995, shortly after the Spirit of revival began to visit our church. I say re-introduced because, like many others, I first read Edwards in high school when “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was required reading. I began to read his biography that year, needless to say, my life has never quite been the same. There was one quote in that book from Edwards preaching that effected everything I have believed and preached from that day forward. Listen carefully as you read that quote for yourself.

“The enjoyment of [God] is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.”

The “enjoyment of God”, that is something I had been unfamiliar with for many years. Revival had restored that part of my life and Edwards was expressing this truth in words and in his relentless, God centered theology. I had been preaching about a good God who would give us our best life now with His blessings and gifts. Revival had brought me face to face with another kind of happiness, happiness spilling over from the other world, happiness that comes from God Himself. To enjoy God is infinitely better that all the earthly joys that this world offers, they are but streams pointing to the ocean of His love.
Maybe you have been unsatisfied in life, you can never quite get to that level of blessing and success that you think will finally bring you happiness. Today, I am asking you to reconsider, maybe you have looked to the gifts rather than the “Giver of all gifts” for your happiness. Like I did several years ago, look again to the God of our forefathers, maybe you will discover this heavenly ocean for yourself.

RELEVANT, EMERGENT, OR JUST A SLOW FADE

RELEVANT, EMERGENT, OR JUST A SLOW FADE

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers.
2 Tim.4:3

Success has been the litmus test for spirituality for many Christians, and sadly, for many pastors over the last two decades. If it is growing in numbers and in dollars, it must be God. Is that what we really believe, is that what you believe? The results of that position has taken the church down some interesting paths over the last few years. We have traveled from positive thinking to faith confession. We have been seeker sensitive, relevant, purpose driven, and emergent, but have we been biblical. Have all of our journeys been motivated by a hunger for God or just a lust after success and a desire to be accepted by the world? In our pursuit of accomplishment, have we lost sight of what is central to the christian faith, have we lost sight of God Himself? “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his very soul?”
John Piper addressed some of these issues in his book “God’s Passion for His Glory”. Here is one of his observations about what is really important in the Christian life.

“If the exhibition of God’s glory and the deepest joy of human souls are one thing, then all true virtue among human beings must aim at bringing people to rejoice in the glory of God. No act is truly virtuous—that is, truly loving—that does not come from and aim at joy in the glory of God.”

That statement defines what has been missing in many churches. Piper talks about bringing people to a place in their life where they have their joy in their relationship with God and His Glory. Rather than trying to find identity and satisfaction from our accomplishments or personal identity, the goal of a Christian is to find his joy in the Lord. The pursuit for satisfaction in our accomplishments or possessions is just a sign of a cold heart. Maybe the trend over the recent past is nor really relevant, purpose driven, seeker sensitive, or emergent after all. Maybe it is just another version of the slow fade from the Glory of His Presence.

ITCHING EARS

ITCHING EARS

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2Tim.4:3,4

What a strange thing to say, Paul said that church people would have “itching ears”. He was describing some of the characteristics that would creep into the church in the end of days. Could he be talking about the time we live in now, if he is, what does “itching ears” refer to? Paul is talking about what happens when christians begin to lose their first love. They either want to hear something new and different or want to hear something that will justify the carnal lifestyle they have chosen to live.
The first category would fall into the area of new and unusual doctrine. Many times people who are bored want some new experience rather than solid teaching from the the written word of God. This could be an unhealthy emphasis on physical manifestations.Their focus could be things like gold dust, gold teeth, feathers, and various other physical manifestations. Don’t get me wrong, God can do anything but our focus is not on manifestations but on Christ. Paul warned us about these kinds of distractions, he said even if an angel from heaven preaches a doctrine more than what he had preached, let him be cursed.
In our modern, relevant world, we have been bombarded with a different kind of message. The itching ears of our generation wants to hear a message that makes allowances for all sorts of carnal behavior in the church. Martin Luther termed this type of teaching “antinomian”, meaning that salvation by grace liberates us from following the rules. It seems like the itching ears of this generation wants no absolutes, leaving us to be tossed too and fro by our own carnal desires. These teachers would emphasize only the mercy and love of God and ignore or make light of His holiness and justice. Our God is all merciful but He is also holy and requires justice.
For a true christian who has tasted of the sweetness of the grace of God, wearing the yoke of obedience becomes our pleasure and not a burden that we carry. We have been saved from the carnality of this dark world by His grace, His written Word has become our food, His Presence has become our living water that we drink. How can I remain uneffected by the “itching ears” doctrines of this age, by being satisfied with Christ and being saturated with His Word.

HEAVEN IS A WORLD OF LOVE

HEAVEN IS A WORLD OF LOVE

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
Rev.22:1

Do you ever think about heaven? It is really hard to even imagine what it could be like. We know about the streets of gold, about the gates made out of pearl, the foundations of the city made of precious stones, we even know about our loved ones. But let’s face it, does anyone really want to go there, I mean go there now. I guess the problem we have is that it doesn’t ever seem real to us, it seems kind of mysterious and, frankly, a little scary. What could change our perspective of heaven? What could make it more desirable than living here on earth? Actually that comes from a revelation of God, a spiritual glimpse into the incredible trinity. Our relationship with the Father, His beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit is what makes heaven, heaven. Jonathan Edwards is known for his sermons about hell, one of his best messages was entitled “Heaven is a World of Love”. Enjoy this short excerpt from that message.

“There, in heaven, this infinite fountain of love — this eternal Three in One — is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it, as it flows forever. There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love! Again, I would consider heaven, with regard,”

He talks as if he has experienced this river of love, not like someone who has just read about it and has a belief about it. Actually, he had experienced heaven at his church in Northampton, Massachusetts. Edward’s church had been overwhelmed with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the years of the Great Awakening. The Holy Spirit is actually the manifestation of God’s love, He is the actual foretaste of the atmosphere of heaven. Edwards spoke of heaven as if he had been there and wanted to go back, that is exactly what had happened. For many today, heaven is just a better option than the alternative. It doesn’t have to stay that way. Just as in all spiritual truth, the things of heaven are made real to us by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Heaven is a world of love, it is a place of unspeakable joy that will increase in intimacy and intensity throughout all eternity. The good news is that you don’t have to wait until you die to experience this world of love, He is being poured out on all flesh today.

SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD

SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD

“For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
Isa.66:24

My first encounter with Jonathan Edwards was in my tenth grade English class, Edwards’ classic sermon “Sinners” was required reading, even in public school. I didn’t think much of it at the time, just another irrelevant, ranting preacher is all he was to me. After years went by, many years, I began to read the writings of Edwards once again. This time I was introduced to him in the framework of revival, his work was at the epicenter of the Great Awakening that had a profound effect on the birth of our nation. Edwards’ writings provided a foundation for me, historic, orthodox Christianity became more and more appealing to me in this modern world of the get rich quick, have it all now, relevant, purpose driven, modern christian world. I needed something with some teeth. Recently this modern, relevant theological experiment has begun to question the foundational teaching on eternity, Edwards has plenty to say about that. Listen to a short exerpt from the historic sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

“Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you…”

This is probably Edwards best known work today, but in his world, he was known more for his preaching on the born again experience. His most famous sermon in his lifetime was “A Divine and Supernatural Light”. I think this generation is crying out for a Christianity with substance, a longing to return to the faith of our fathers. How is it with your soul today? Have you seen that “Divine and Supernatural Light” or are you still dangling by the web of the spider over the flaming gorge of hell. Maybe you are longing for a faith with some “teeth”. If so, open the Bible again, I’ve heard that Jesus still walks through the pages of that old trusted book.

HARE KRISHNA DEVOTEE

I once was a Hara Krishna devotee!
Merry Monday by Parris Bailey

“For we ourselves were sometime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” Titus 3:3

It is quite odd to write those words, remembering it is even more painful! Even to this day, the Krishna house is still on Esplanade Ave. in New Orleans. In 1973, I found myself chanting the Krishna prayer, holding some beads, and reading the Bhagavad Gita about Krishna and Arjuna. Some of the teaching of this Hindu sect was that Frank and I were to slowly “evolve”, so to speak, by taking cold showers, eat vegetarian food, and sleep no more than 4 hours a day. I will spare you the long story and just say that it didn’t work. The one thing I remember is the guilty feeling I felt going into the “temple” and the guilty feeling I felt leaving the “temple”. To make the story even worse, Frank and I had devised a plan in which I was to run away with him to spend the rest of our lives living at their farm in Virginia, chanting our life away. We had saved up $700 for the trip and put in our two-week notice. Everything was going as planned. It was a Friday and Frank and I decided to take the drive into New Orleans to see the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar”, after all, he too was a prophet. At the end of the movie, while they were showing scenes of the crucifixion, we both started crying. Frank turned to me and said, “Didn’t Jesus say, I am the way and the truth and the life?”(I was not raised in church had no idea what Jesus said or didn’t say) After the movie, we decided to drive out to the lakefront of New Orleans seeing that’s where a lot of young people always hung out. That night we ran into some young people singing and sharing their faith. A couple of them approached us and said, “JESUS LOVES YOU AND HAS A PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE”.
It’s funny how your life can take on a sudden change. Needless to say, we never made it to Virginia. (Thank you almighty God!) Instead, we gave our lives to Jesus Christ, got married and went to a bible school in California. All the feelings of guilt, shame and lonliness left me. He found me and I was changed, born again, and a new nature was put inside of me.
The verse above described me to a tee. I who was once so very foolish, serving divers lusts. Or another translation puts it bluntly, “serving my glands”! Maybe you can’t remember that lost feeling but I certainly do. I think what best describes me is some wild animal that was led by anything that happened to come along.
“But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared.” I thank God the “after that” came to me, after the heartbreak of sin, after following my divers lusts and after the chasing after the leftover scraps- God came to me.
Yes, I was born again. Yes, I was delivered from the fires of hell. Yes, I received power to become a child of God. He truly is the way, the truth and the life! Are you born-again?

ALL THE BLESSINGS OF THE SPIRIT

ALL THE BLESSINGS OF THE SPIRIT

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Eph.1:3

I love this verse of scripture. What does Paul mean by “every spiritual blessing”? Actually he is talking about all of the benefits that begin to flood into our lives when we receive the Holy Spirit. A.B. Simpson was a pastor in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century. He was touched mightily by the Pentecostal outpouring that happened about that time and became a leading teacher in that movement. Listen to his take on this passage.

” • This epistle is an unfolding of “all the blessings of the Spirit.” This is the true translation of this passage.
• There is a great difference between the blessings of the Spirit and spiritual blessings. This is a case where a single noun is worth a hundred adjectives. The person of the Holy Ghost is worth more than all His gifts.
• The apostle’s theme, in this sublime epistle, is the higher blessings of the Holy Ghost, which He makes known to those who enter into the fullness of Christ, May the Holy Spirit Himself enable us to see and enter into all the blessings of the Spirit!”

This understanding of this verse of scripture can change everything for us. We are no longer looking for various blessings from the Lord, we are after God Himself. All of the blessings; healing, provision, changed life and lifestyle, flow out of our relationship with the Holy Spirit. When He comes into our lives, He doesn’t come alone, He brings all of the “blessings of the Spirit” with Him. I love what Simpson said about the results of receiving the Spirit, “the person of the Holy Ghost is worth more than all His gifts”. Simpson had discovered the true gift of Pentecost. It was not the receiving of a new formula or the secret to success in life, but the reception of a new person. The Lord is offering us more than wonderful gifts, He is offering us Himself. Actually, that is the greatest expression of love. We are not so much interested in gifts from our loved ones, we are interested in the loved ones themselves. The gift of the Spirit is God’s greatest expression of love, His best gift. What is that gift, it is God Himself. When you receive this gift of love, you may just receive more than you ever imagined, you might just step into “all the blessings of the Spirit.”

LOOKING FOR JOY

LOOKING FOR JOY

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
Ps.36:8

All we really want in life is to be happy, is that too much to ask? From the day we are born, we are looking for some joy. The baby looks for it in his bottle, the little girl in her “Barbie doll” and the little boy in his cars and trucks. As we get older not much changes. The “bottle” just has a different beverage, the little girl has become her version of “Barbie” and the little man has become a big boy with bigger cars and trucks. They have all been looking for the same thing since they were born, all we want is a liitle happiness. We were all created by God in His image with a huge desire for pleasure, the problem started when man fell into sin. This God instilled, huge appetite for happiness was corrupted at the fall, instead of the incredible pleasure found in our relationship with our Creator, we were alienated from Him and began our search. We have been looking for happiness which can never be found in this created world, after all, we have eternity in our hearts. Jonathan Edwards was consumed with this pursuit of pleasure, he had found the fountain head of this pleasure in Christ Himself, this is something of what Edwards had to say about the pleasures of God.
“The sum of all spiritual good which the saints have in this world, is that spring of living water within them which we read of, (John 4:10;) and those rivers of living waters flowing from within them which we read of, (John 7:38,39,) which we are there told is the Holy Spirit. And the sum of all happiness in the other world, is that river of living water which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, which is the river of God’s pleasures, and is the Holy Spirit, which is often compared in Sacred Scripture to water, to the rain and dew, and rivers and floods of waters, (Isa. 44:3; 32:15; 41:17,18, compared with John 4:14; Isa. 35:6,7; 43:19,20.)”
Edwards had experienced this “joy unspeakable” when the Holy Spirit first fell in his church in 1734. From that day on nothing else could ever satisfy him in his pursuit. Have you experienced this heavenly joy, if not, “joy unspeakable” is waiting for you. Drink the living water, and when you do, you also will taste of the pleasures of God that will last for eternity.

ETERNAL HELL FIRE

ETERNAL HELL FIRE

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Matt.25:41

Is hell a real place, or just the archaic threats of irrelevant, ranting preachers. Our sanitized culture recoils at the thought of a place of eternal torment, especially the eternal fires of hell. The problem we have is the source of much of our teaching on hell, it is Jesus Christ Himself. Most of the criticism aimed at Him during His time on earth was not His teaching on hell, He was condemned for the love He showed to the common sinners of His day. It is hard to condemn Christ as a narrow minded preacher, devoid of mercy. He is the very incarnation of the mercy of God, yet His warnings about hell remain.
In 1999 we began performing a play at Victory Fellowship called Beyond the Grave. In this production we see the untimely deaths of several teens, the victims of a troubled young man gone out of control. The tragedy portrayed in this production was not just the premature deaths of these precious young people, but the horrors that followed for those unprepared for life beyond the grave. The impact of this play has been quite stunning, several hundred thousand people have attended performances of Beyond the Grave, and an untold number have had true conversion experiences. It seems eternity is in our hearts, man knows in the bottom of his being that there is life beyond the grave.
Why would man be condemned in this place of darkness for eternity? How could a loving God cast such a harsh judgement on so many people? Those answers are clearly taught in the Bible. The Bible begins with man’s rebellion against His creator. The ramifications of our rebellion against an infinitely, holy God are quite staggering. The Bible shows man headed down a path of utter destruction in his march toward eternity in his defiance of God and His kingdom. The mercy and kindness of God were revealed in the coming of our
Savior, Jesus Christ. His sacrificial death on the cross is God’s plan of rescue from the total destruction of mankind. Have you made your peace with our offended, holy God, or have you rejected His incredible offer of reconciliation made available by the death of His Son? What is at stake, only your eternal destiny.

IS HELL REAL?

IS HELL REAL?

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Matt.13:41-43

No one wants to think about hell or eternal suffering, it is not a topic at church, funerals, or seldom comes up in our daily conversations. To bring up the subject, or even worse, tell someone you think it is real, can cause tension, anger, and rejection. You will be labeled as narrow minded, religious, and void of love. That is quite strange in light of the One whose words I quoted in today’s verse. Jesus is the embodiment of the Father’s love, He displayed His love for sinners by His death on the cross. He believed in eternal suffering in hell and took great measures to warn us about it. What determines the measure of our crimes against God and what kind of suffering does justice demand? Our punishment is correctly estimated by the value of the person we have sinned against and the great depths we have plummeted to in violating this great and holy God. Jonathan Edwards preached a message about the justice of God revealed by hell, listen to his words.

“But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellency and beauty. To have infinite excellency and beauty, is the same thing as to have infinite loveliness. He is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honorable. He is infinitely exalted above the greatest potentates of the earth, and highest angels in heaven; and therefore he is infinitely more honorable than they. His authority over us is infinite; and the ground of his right to our obedience is infinitely strong; for he is infinitely worthy to be obeyed himself, and we have an absolute, universal, and infinite dependence upon him.
So that sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment.- Nothing is more agreeable to the common sense of mankind, than that sins committed against any one, must be proportionably heinous to the dignity of the being offended …”

The good news is that there is another way to satisfy the justice of God. Christ became man, represented us as a people, and took the wrath of God aimed at our sins by His death on the cross. God’s justice was satisfied and His mercy extended to all who will believe on Him. The decision is yours, accept His offer or spend eternity fulfilling the justice of sins against an infinitely, holy God.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Jn.3:36