Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Year of God

Toward the end of our annual week of prayer and fasting, our corporate preparation for the year ahead (2016), I heard the Lord say to me, "This will be the year of God!" At first, I wondered at a statement that seemed on the surface to me to be somewhat obvious and perhaps foolish (are not all years made by God?) and yet at the same time too great to expect to happen. In the Bible, whenever The Lord would make statements like this to His people, He was speaking of things larger than they could comprehend for their day. And so I doubted what I thought I heard from God. 

But as I pondered what this might mean, He opened my eyes to see that He would be breaking out of our boxes of how we view Him and relate to Him. He said to me, "My people have accepted me as their God on certain conditions that suit them. They have accepted a God that is acceptable to them."

At best, this condition in us brings confusion to our hearts—an inability to see, know, and walk with God as He really is. At worst, it is insubordination and idolatry that affords us control in bowing down to what we think will be best for us. We deceive ourselves thinking that we are righteous and spiritual, fulfilling obligations that will secure eternal life and open heaven's blessings to us.

American Christians are particularly given to creating a Christian God/savior who fits their personality and ambitions, that accommodates their failures and sins, that operates in their lives in a manner that is logical to them, and whose love and goodness will "take care of it all." It does not matter to them whether the God of the Bible truly fits their image of who they imagine Him to be, as long as they "feel" good about themselves and their future.

I have heard numerous times over the recent years people, both in the church and out, make statements such as, "If God is like that, then I can't accept or follow Him." They hear something from the Bible about God in His nature and ways that does not fit their agenda or intellectual views of reality, and take a position of power and self-governance to choose their God according to their own criteria. 

And many Christians are doing that today, picking and choosing verses and thoughts from the Bible to form an image of the Christian God whom they will worship and love. They know that God created them and they answer to Him ultimately, but it is easier to fit Him into "my life" if I tweak Him a bit with my spiritual reasoning and wishes. Many forms of grace doctrines and teachings have been birthed out of this womb, and it's teachers are telling us that they have the true view of God in His goodness and love that will set everyone free. 

A concept of God that helps you feel more "freedom in life" and better about yourself is not the true test of whether you are walking with the God of the Bible. While it is wonderfully true that Jesus said "the truth will make you free," it is the truth you come to know by continuing in His word as a fully surrendered follower (John 8:31,32) that releases us from bondage.

One of the most sobering verses in the Bible are found in Psalm 81 where God addresses the deception and destruction among His own people because they did not have a true heart to listen to His voice in order to obey in all things. He cries out, "Oh that my people would listen to my voice and walk in my ways." But since there was not in His people the desire and willingness to do so, He stated that He "gave them over" to the stubbornness of their hearts and to walk in their own devices. This is an accurate picture of what can happen to God's people today. They think they are walking with a God they know and worship, but the condition of their heart is controlling the relationship and they don't even know how far from God they are!

The good news is also stated here in these verses that we can really know God as He is and walk with Him. And that is the cry of His heart, that He might bring to us what He has for us in His love.

It is the mercy of God to not remain in our boxes. He will be known for who He truly is among a people who are willing to embrace Him on His terms according to who He really is. "The fear of the Lord" enables us to really know God, walk with Him according to what pleases Him, displace deceptions of the heart and mind, defeat the enemy, and receive the finest of what God has for us. 

When Moses asked God "Whom shall I tell the people You are that has sent me to them?" God responded, "You shall tell them 'I AM' has sent you." By this answer God revealed that He would be the totality of all they needed in life, but He was also revealing that He is the center of all things and would not be defined by their own perceptions or responses.

And God knew they had no idea Who He is, and that they would not know how to walk with Him, trust Him or love Him. So He began to break apart their boxes of preconceived notions/deceptions before He led them out of Egypt. This was one the purposes for the many plagues on Egypt and the mind-blowing works of God to deliver, protect and care for them as they headed to the promised land. You might say it was in their experience "the year of God."

At first the Israelites experienced some of the plagues in their own land. They got a taste of God's redeeming power and sovereignty over all the earth. He was the God of all gods. "I AM" had the right to rule and reign over all. Egypt's gods and magicians were shown to be false and inferior. And what Egypt had to offer for life, as impressive as it may have seemed, was inferior and not the result of their Pharaoh or gods.

Christians today need a refresher in this same reality. The God of the American Dream is not the God of the Bible. And God is allowing the kingdoms of this world that we may be impressed with and trusting in to crumble under plagues. Our Father God is hoping that we will lift our eyes to see the true King and His unshakable Kingdom and embrace Him alone on His terms, not ours.

But after these initial plagues, God began to reveal His own heart for His people. He would come in power with more plagues, but they would not touch His people in their part of Egypt. God told Moses that He would begin to "make a distinction" between His people and the Egyptians (Exodus 9:4). His people would not be touched by the rest of what was coming because they had been "set apart" unto Him: "that you may understand how the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel" (Exodus 11:7). And so the Israelites would hear of what their God brought on the Egyptians, and perhaps got to see at a distance the devastation they were spared from. And the reality of God's heart for them and the promises spoken to their forefathers was becoming evident. He was preparing them to trust in His love and goodness and to enter into a covenant relationship with Him so He might bring them into what He described to them as "a land flowing with milk and honey." 

I believe that in this "year of God," 2016, our Heavenly Father is going to come in ways that we have not seen before. There will be some "shock and awe" in the way heaven releases things. He will not ask our permission. He will not fit into our logic or "spiritual correctness." He will not fit into our favorite verses of the Bible. He will distinguish Himself as all He says He is. It will require us to throw away boxes, move out of our comfort zones and adjust to Him as He is, not as we want Him to be. This is badly needed in the church and America if we are to walk with Him in the turbulent days coming upon the earth.

But at the same time, as we let God distinguish Himself and embrace Him in the fear of the Lord, He will reveal His true love and goodness toward us as He acts powerfully to distinguish us as His unique people/family. During the plague of darkness that covered Egypt for three days so severely that the Egyptians could not even see each other, Exodus tells us, "but all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings" (10:23). As a result of the visible and powerful distinctions God made between Egypt and His people "the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Furthermore, the man Moses was greatly esteemed in the land of Egypt" (11:3). 

I believe we will begin to see the same results among us as we embrace "the year of God." But we must die to self, position ourselves before the Lord to listen to His voice to adjust our lives and thinking accordingly. We must repent of all stubbornness of heart and all the ways we have walked according to what seems right or acceptable to us. Let us cry out as David did when he realized that God was examining his life, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way" (Psalm 139:23-24). 

The Year of God is here and already moving. May we be in the center of it all as we embrace what it truly means to be "the people of God." "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" will be answered like never before in our midst. Amen!

I hope you'll join us this Sunday at The River  at 10:00 A.M. for an awesome time of worship and encountering God. If you can't make it on Sunday, check our website for more great opportunities throughout the week to meet with other people who are passionately pursuing Jesus, worship, and get powerful teaching.

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