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An Altar in the Wilderness

There exists a deep sense of displacement in many of our hearts. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a tent to live in, but we are looking for a city with foundations, built by God. While we walk in the shadows of the dark valley, the enemy sneaks along the hillsides above us, spying and sniping, trying to kill us before we reach the open country. We are easy targets. We carry the Light through this strange country we wander in.

We do not, however, wander aimlessly. There are waypoints in the wilderness. Consider Isaiah 19:19: “In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt.” In New Testament language, we might say, “Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” This prophecy provides hope for the future and spiritual principle for the present.

As you journey, look around you and you will see people with strange customs, alien affections, and selfish pursuits. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, who worship all sorts of things. In ancient Egypt it was the Nile River or frogs or fertility. Today the gods have different faces, but the affections of the worshipers are the same. Whether by ritual or sorcery or science, fallen mankind desperately tries to control all that threatens or promises to promote.

We, too, face fear, but God has not forgotten us in this wild country. He has allayed our fears by releasing us from the overwhelming need to control all. He has given us an altar outside the camp , where Jesus suffered in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. In so doing, He has changed our affections, transformed our customs, and made our pursuits transcendent instead of transient. We have lost our place in this world, becoming pilgrims, aliens, and strangers.

We have become a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts. This is our mandate, our role, our place. To paraphrase (or personalize) 1 Peter 2:9: “But we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We are living witnesses of Jesus’ sacrifice, his resurrection, his ongoing intercession, his call to draw all people to himself.

Do you, too, feel your displacement in this world? What altar to you sacrifice at? Are your affections, customs, and pursuits the same as or different than those around you? Are you pursuing eternity or time? Are you a sign to your generation? A witness?

Take these questions before God in prayer … then go out and shake the gates of Hell today!

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You Can Still Shake the Gates of Hell When Things Don’t Go As Planned

You Can Shake the Gates of Hell

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,” declares the Lord.”

– Isaiah 55:8

In the West, we highly value productivity — or at least the appearance of productivity. We Western Christians all too often herald the expectation of productivity as a core value of following Jesus. Many of us believe that our life in Christ is only valuable if there are attendant measurable, attainable results (products)—or the appearance of them. Many of us even stake our identity in this idea.

What happens when God the Father decides that our dependence upon productivity is a huge hurdle to our growth in maturity and Christlikeness? How do we respond when God’s highest purpose for a season may very well be to teach us to deal with frustration, waiting, desperate praying, or trusting that there is real activity in the other realm that eyes cannot see?

I am a Bible translator in Papua New Guinea. My family and I live in a mountain village that gets upwards of 200 inches of rain a year. Mountainsides slide. Roads erode. Floods flow. The nearest city is over 60 kilometers away and is sometimes blocked by all of the above. Used to these realities, the locals here are … patient, easygoing, not concerned with speed or efficiency. Survival is enough.

These realities are disruptive, as are the questions. In the moments when this world is caving in on my expectations and the flesh is tired of waiting, the enemy goes to work on my sense of self-worth and accomplishment. He knows all too well how to use the expectation of productivity against me—and perhaps you, too.

Satan wants us to lean into our efficiency, to depend upon our productivity as a means of earning God’s affections. He wants us to think that if our productivity is interrupted by cancer or car wreck or even living in the developing world, that our faith is worthless and our position in God is null and void.

If you want to shake the gates of Hell, don’t take the bait. Don’t allow the adversary to convince you that the substance of your life is pent-up in getting things done efficiently any more than it is in the abundance of your worldly goods.

My college-aged sons and I were walking between villages a few months ago. We were talking about life and what we had planned for that day. We had made very efficient and productive plans for that day, but we instead found ourselves hiking and talking.

Our original plans thwarted, we asked God for his plan. The answers to that prayer took us to the house of a man who was sick and needed to be encouraged. They took us on a journey that would help establish a program board to streamline the work of translation among the Somau Garia people. God’s efficiency is about building people and his kingdom rather than merely giving us a personal sense of accomplishment.

The enemy hates it when we respond to frustration with prayer; when we choose to trust the Unseen rather than wallow in despair of what is only dimly seen. His designs for our destruction are thwarted when we surrender to our Father and his plans.

Are efficiency and productivity negative values? Of course not. Ministries like Bible translation are too great a task to finish without employing these values. But we dare not confuse the outcome of a set of work habits with fruit born of the Holy Spirit. Shaking the gates of Hell is done in the Spirit, by fruit born of Him and effort made through the strength of Christ—especially when things don’t go according to our plans.

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Facing the Unthinkable–Three Realities That Will Change Your Life

The lights in the cabin were dimmed. The almost unnoticed sound of air slipping over the skin of the airliner reminded me that I was at 40,000 feet. I sat, bleary eyed along the rear bulkhead, reading light on, notepad on the tray in front of me. It was Father’s Day and I was suspended between heaven and earth separated from my children and facing an unthinkable tragedy–I was going home, alone, to the U.S. to help my family bury my father. There were no words to pray. Sitting numbly in a stupor, I pressed pen to paper and began to write. “The last words my dad ever said to me were, ‘I love you, son. . .'”

Uria Village, PNG

The sun rises over Uria Village, Papua New Guinea

Mountains across the valley emerged from the darkness as dawn approached. Fog flowed through the valley below us, a great white river that would disappear soon enough. The friar bird began singing his morning prayer as did the dozens of Papua New Guinean neighbors encircling our house. I listened to the cadence of my wife’s breathing and of the gentle words of caring friends outside. Though we had lived in Papua New Guinea only a short time, my health was mysteriously failing. Why? Our friends were crying out to heaven for answers.

A different night a line of flaming torches flickered against the mountainside. People were descending into a maelstrom of violence and hatred, ready to burn, to kill, to revenge. Sin had to be dealt with, swiftly and severely, shame mitigated, respect restored. The torch bearers thought that someone in our village had performed a revenge-killing on one of their relatives and they were coming to make war. We were caught in the middle of friends who were suddenly at war with one another.

Loss, sickness, and violence. Three threads of my New Guinea experience. Why were they so frequently present? What was I to learn about shaking the gates of Hell from these harsh realities?

First, I learned that in even the most unthinkable, hurtful, and skewering situations, I do not come to God with answers–I just come to God. I learned that I don’t have words, most of the time, to adequately express the loss, the hurt, the frustration or the fear. I learned that there is Someone to help me with all that.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  (Romans 8:26-27, ESV)

Second, I learned that in even the most unthinkable, hurtful, and skewering situations, God is with me. I know this, in part, because the Son submitted to the most inhumane, brutal torture and murder, in order that I would not be charged and executed for my wrongdoing. I know this in part because when He was undergoing life in a human body–the temptation, the taunting, the torture, the rejection, even death–he experienced more of the unthinkable that I could ever imagine. Therefore, He is qualified to empathize with everything I’ve experienced. He takes that experience and prays with understanding for me.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Third, I learned that even the most unthinkable, hurtful, and skewering situations serve to make me more like Christ and are used by God to make me more than a conqueror. They are used to make me fit for heaven, to be purified in the inner man, to be holy as He is holy. They are normative Christian experiences, not exceptions. They do not separate me from Him, they deepen my dependence upon him.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35-38, ESV)

These three truths transform my heart and mind, stealing me away from fearful, tentative tendencies, making me into a fearless, intrepid intercessor who intercedes along with the Holy Spirit and the Son, shaking the gates of Hell, causing rumblings in heavenly places, risking all for the honor of being called “son” by the Creator, Conqueror, and Counselor.