I don’t know about you, but for many years after I found out about Jesus and believed in Him as my Saviour, I thought I needed to do things for God in order to merit His salvation. In other words, I tried very hard to be good so God would not be disappointed in me, change His mind, and revoke my salvation. Quite simply, I was terrified that if I made a mistake, it would be the end of my relationship with the Lord.
I believed that because I did not receive proper instruction in the Word after I was saved. And so for years I kept trying to earn my salvation. I believed my sin was so great, that I needed to make amends first and be a better person before God could really work in my life. So I tried to "improve" myself in order for Jesus to accept me. I tried everything from good deeds, to not swearing, drinking or doing anything that would make God angry. Unfortunately, I became so tightly wound by all my own self-imposed do’s and don’ts I started to resent my relationship with this angry God who demanded so much. What I didn’t see was that I was the one who was doing the demanding. I was the one imposing the rules and standards. I was the one trying to make myself good and perfect, instead of letting the Holy Spirit work within me. In addition to that I tried to live up to the rules and standards my church had in place. Before I realized what was happening I started sliding into a deep depression. For many years my faith was lifeless, fake, and dull because I didn’t let God do His work. Instead of allowing His Holy Spirit to work a change within me, I was trying to do it all. And because I didn’t allow Him to have full access to smooth out my rough spots, I would become incredibly nervous when talking to people about Him. Why? I didn’t want to say something that was wrong about Him or offend Him. Again, my own self-imposed rules.
Today I want to look at those rough spots in our lives that need smoothing out by looking at Isaiah 40:3-5.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low. The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5, NKJV).
Have you ever noticed that when we read the above verses we tend to run the words together? For example, when reading the highlighted verse above, any pauses we make are in direct relation to the punctuation. And that is a shame because we miss the deeper meaning of this verse. This is how the verse is punctuated in the Jewish Publication Society's translation:
Hark! One calleth: "Clear ye in the wilderness the way of HaShem, make plain in the desert a highway for our G-d. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rugged shall be made level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of HaShem shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of HaShem hath spoken it (Isaiah 40:3-5, JPS)."
Did you spot the difference? One reads as if a voice is crying in the wilderness. The other tells us what the voice is actually demanding. In other words it should read, "The voice of one crying, in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord. . ."
Quite a difference don't you think?
Granted, this verse was talking about the coming Messiah and John the Baptist himself quoted it in John 1:23, announcing that he was that voice preparing the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. John called for the people to repent and turn to the Lord. To signify that they were indeed repenting, he also called for them to be baptized as a sign of that repentance.
When Jesus came he preached the same message but baptized the people with water and the Holy Spirit. Those who repented received water baptism as a sign of their commitment to God and of their repentance, and at the moment of their conversion they are filled with God's Holy Spirit. In essence they prepare the wilderness of their souls (through repentance) in order to make a way for God to enter into relationship with them through His Holy Spirit.
And when God sees a lost soul laying down His life in order to follow Him, He takes over from there if we are willing to let His Holy Spirit work in our lives.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Raising valleys and lowering mountains is no easy task. Making a straight path to the Lord is not easy either, if we try to do it on our own. But according to Romans 5:8, God accepts us as we are in our sinful state and we don't have to make ourselves perfect in order to come before Him. Without God we are in the wilderness. Our lives are a barren desert full of valleys of despair and mountains of sin and God in His mercy offers us a way to make those rugged areas level. He has prepared a way out for all who are in the wilderness, through the gift of Jesus Christ and all we have to do is make ourselves available to receiving that gift.
It takes a bulldozer to level valleys, with mountains of dirt to fill in the empty spaces. And it takes dynamite to lower a mountain. Both very difficult and long processes to go through before the way is clear and flat. On our own there is no way we can cover up our sins or get rid of them to make ourselves "perfect enough" to invite God into our lives. It can't be done and He doesn't expect it to be done. He wants you as you are, right where you are now. The only thing you need to do is repent of your sin (don't do it anymore) and confess your need of salvation. Leave the rest up to God.
If you have been a Christian for a while and your faith feels dead, maybe you've been trying to fill those valleys and move those mountains in your own power, forgetting (like I did) that the Holy Spirit is sent to dwell within us at the moment of salvation, in order to begin a good work in us (Philippians 1:6). That "work" is God moving those mountains and filling those valleys so that on the day we stand before Him, we will be ready to enter into His kingdom. The only thing we need to do is trust God to complete His work within us. It may take years because let's face it, we were in the devil's camp for a long time and even though we've been saved by grace, we still live in a fallen world where Satan is actively trying to win us back into his camp (1 Peter 5:8). Sadly, with many Christians today, He has been succeeding by appealing to worldly desires. Satan knows our faults, weaknesses, doubts and desires and will use them to his advantage. He will make us think we aren't good enough to come to God, or that we have failed God so much that He couldn't possibly still love us (even if we've been Christians for years). He will make us doubt our faith and the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. That's Satan's job - to make us doubt God's Word and if he succeeds, those valleys get lower and those mountains get higher and we struggle to find our way again. When all along God has prepared the way for us through Jesus Christ, and all we really need to do is allow His Holy Spirit to work within us to make us into the people He wants us to be. People who are able to stand firm in the face of adversity, persecution and ridicule by the world at large.
Are you a Christian who has been wandering in the wilderness? Or someone who has never known the Lord? Then open your heart to Him. Admit your sins and confess your need of God's intervention in your life. Accept the gift of salvation He offers, then repent and trust Him to take your sinful life and make it whole, clean and new again through His Holy Spirit. He can do it if you let Him.
Exciting things are happening in the world today that are in direct relation to prophecy being fulfilled. But I wonder how many Christians realize what is happening around them? Last week on June 9, 2015, something remarkable happened that amazingly coincides with events surrounding the President of Syria, Bashar Hafez al-Assad, (more commonly known as Bashar Assad) and a Jewish mystic in Israel. It is no secret that President Assad is losing his grip on Syria and that all signs seem to be pointing to its fall. What has not been widely reported however, is the news out of Israel concerning 76 year-old Rabbi Amram Vaknin, a Jewish mystic whose latest prophecy is both thrilling and frightening when combined with the latest news about Syria.
First let me tell you about the news regarding Rabbi Amram Vaknin. On Tuesday morning (June 9) he was leading a prayer service in the Cave of Elijah in Haifa, Israel. Approximately 30 Jewish men and 30 Jewish women were present at the time. The purpose of the prayer service was to pray for the welfare of the Jewish people.
According to Breaking Israel News, Gil Nachman, an aide to the Rabbi and an eyewitness, reported that at approximately 11:30 AM, the Rabbi suddenly fell to the ground of the cave. Naturally, all those present assumed the Rabbi was ill, but while they were dealing with reviving him the Rabbi was actually receiving a vision from the Lord. According to Nachman, the Rabbi received the following vision from Elijah the Prophet:
There is a decree from Heaven that war will be starting in the south of Israel, will move to the north of Israel and will continue inside of Israel. Thousands of people will die, God-forbid.”
Why is this important? And why should Christians care what this Rabbi saw? Because his prophecies come true! And Scripture says that one of the ways we verify a true prophet of God is by whether or not their prophecies are fulfilled (Deuteronomy 18:21-22), and so far the Rabbi has been 100% accurate in his predictions. According to Breaking Israel News Rabbi Vaknin accurately predicted:
Due to this latest vision, all Jewish people throughout the world are being asked to unite together in prayer and fasting in order to avert this decree from the Lord.
But what does this have to do with Syria and President Bashar Assad? Plenty. There are several hints in sacred Jewish texts and in the Bible to a connection between the fate of Syria, in particular between the fall of Damascus, Syria’s capital city, and the imminent arrival of the Messiah. The 2nd century Jewish sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai predicted that when an evil ruler in Damascus falls from power, the Messiah, son of David, will appear.
And it is a sign for you, when you see the Nero of the East fall in Damascus, the Salvation will come to Israel, and Mashiah Ben David will come… – Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
Isaiah 17:1-3 says this about Damascus:
A prophecy against Damascus:“See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid. The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus; the remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites,” declares the Lord Almighty.
Damascus has never been a heap of ruins. Yes, it has been captured. Yes, it has been destroyed but it has always been rebuilt. Currently, it is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world! If it falls ISIS will quickly seize Jordan, then Lebanon and finally Israel. The Rabbi's message said, "War will be starting in the south of Israel." ISIS has been in the Gaza Strip for some time and now with the Palestinian terror group Hamas on the outs with ISIS and with Egypt in their cross-hairs as well, it will be interesting to see if the Rabbi's prophecy will come to fruition. Time will tell. Pray for Israel!
Have you ever read the Christmas story when it wasn't Christmas? Perhaps not, but Luke 2:4-20 gives us a great example of what qualifications (if any) are needed to proclaim Jesus to others. If you have ever felt that you needed a degree in theology before you begin a ministry God has called you to, just remember the shepherds who were out in the fields the night of Jesus' birth and what happened to them. If you need a refresher, the story can be found at Luke 2:4-20.
During biblical times, shepherds were despised among the general populace. They were thought of as untrustworthy, illiterate, uncouth, unclean misfits. The religious leaders held them in the same regard as they did prostitutes. They were quite literally the social outcasts of their day. This is what makes their story so amazing.
Angels did not appear to anyone else that night to proclaim that the Messiah had been born. Only despised shepherds. They knew their position in society and so did God, which is why their story is so unique. The first thing they did after seeing the angels was to immediately go to Bethlehem to verify if a baby had been born. The second thing they did was to tell everyone they met about the child and what had happened to them. The third thing they did was to glorify and praise God for what had happened to them. In other words they praised and thanked the Lord for the privilege of proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.
Do you know what that makes them?
The first witnesses/preachers in all of history to proclaim that Jesus was Lord!
Now let's think about this for a moment. Jesus came in the lowliest of manners. His birth was proclaimed by men considered outcasts by society. I personally don't understand the archaic reasoning as to why shepherds were so despised at the time. But they were and God chose them to be His mouthpiece. The angels did not appear to the learned religious leaders of the day. Just like Jesus' lowly birth, those considered the least important in society were the ones elected to spread the news about his arrival. I don't know about you, but this brings me comfort to know that the great God of heaven elected to use men of little influence to announce His coming.
While God does use great men of faith like Billy Graham, and those who have attended school to get accredited as a preacher (like your Pastor), He can and does use everyone to proclaim His message - if we are willing to take that first step of obedience by declaring Him before others.
Unfortunately, it is the one thing most Christians don't act on because of fear. Fear that they will say the wrong thing. Fear that people will react in a negative way and fear that they are not qualified to teach or preach because they do not have diplomas to back up their authority. Did you know that the only disciple with a "real" education was Paul? He was taught by the great Rabbi Gamaliel. All the rest of the Apostles were (to put it bluntly) uneducated people with a message to share. So if you are not sharing your Faith Story with others because you feel you need to go to school first - think again. God revealed Himself to you in a specific way. He has called you to go and share that story.
So what four qualifications do you need to preach/share the Gospel?
Do you have a Faith Story you would like to share? Let me know and I will post it here on my blog. Can't wait to share your story? Then tell us about it in the comments below.