What’s Holding You Hostage?

Nehemiah 9:17 (Net Bible), “They refused to obey and did not recall your miracles that you had performed among them. Instead, they rebelled and appointed a leader to return to their bondage in Egypt. But you are a God of forgiveness, merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and unfailing in your loyal love. You did not abandon them,”

We are all aware of the term “hostage”: when someone is taken against their will and held hostage usually for a ransom, or when a terrorist hold a person to either protect themselves or again to force negotiations. Each one of us was born a hostage. Satan, the ultimate terrorist, held us against our will. Jesus paid the ransom. We are now free to go. If we are still under the rule of Satan, it is purely by choice. We can choose to surrender to Jesus, who only ever asks us to come willingly and never forces us to do anything. Or we can allow things, or the enemy, or our flesh to hold us hostage.

I Timothy 26:5-6 (BSB), “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all — the testimony that was given at just the right time”

What is keeping you from walking free? What is keeping you from surrender to God? Is it your habits, addictions, or lusts? Is it greed, selfishness, or pride? Maybe you feel unworthy, unclean, and unloved and can’t seem to get a grasp on the fact that God loves you, wants you in His life, and made a way for you to live free from every bondage.

Maybe you chose God and somewhere along the way wondered off, like the dog that returns to its own vomit. You have placed yourself back in bondage after tasting freedom. Don’t despair, God has not abandoned you! Turn from that life and turn back to God. He is waiting with arms outstretched.

What’s holding you hostage? The ransom has already been paid. Walk free, walk tall, you are a child of the King.

Go Out Fighting

Ephesians 6:10-18 (HCSB), “Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.”

We are in a war. Sure maybe not with other people, but that doesn’t make it less evident. In fact it is even more important that we understand what we are fighting and who our enemy really is. Satan loses. God is very clear in His word. And he knows that his ultimate dwelling place will be hell. However, he won’t give up and if he has to go to hell, he wants to take as many of us with him as he can. Why? Because God loves us and he hates God. He wants to hurt Him by hurting us. If the old serpent can’t get us to hell, due to the applied blood of Jesus, then he will do everything he can to delay, distract, and discourage us. He wants us to think that we have to wait until we die to see heaven. He wants us to live sick, worn out, lives filled with anxiety and poverty. Or he wants things to look so good in the world that we choose to walk away from God and His path and plans for us.

Pretty simple. God is good and He is for us. He knows and wants what’s best for us. He already did everything needful to give us a blessed life. Satan is evil and is against us. He wants our lives to get smaller and smaller. He will try anything to get us to lose heart.

So what do we do? We find out who God is, who we are, what He says about us, how He wants us to live from heaven right now, and we STAND. We can’t just stand there in our undies. We have to put some things on.

Isaiah 61:3, 10 (NIV), “and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendorI delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Ephesians 4:24 (NLT), “Put on your new nature, created to be like God–truly righteous and holy.”

Romans 13:14 (NASB), “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

We need to clothe ourselves with garments of salvation, robes of righteousness (clothing He made), and we “put on” the new nature (the nature of God), and we have to “put on” Christ! We are in Him, and He is in us. And finally over all of those glorious garments, we put on the armor of God from Ephesians 6.

Clearly we are living in the last days. It’s the final round. Let’s go out fighting! “Occupy until he comes.” Occupy means to work, gain ground, keep what you have, dig in, etc. Jesus already won the victory. We just have to keep fighting and STAND against everything the enemy throws our way and we don’t fight alone! We have mighty warring angels fighting for us, and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us. Pretty encouraging, yes?

Produce Love

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Galatians 5:6 (HCSB), “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.” (emphasis mine)

I want to be productive in some way, to contribute. I don’t ever want to be accused of just taking and never giving. I don’t believe in distribution of wealth, or socialism. I believe everyone has something to give, something to do, some part they can play in making the world a better place.

As Christians we are to be productive. God told Adam and Eve, as well as Noah after the flood, to be fruitful and multiply. We are supposed to be about His business of furthering His Kingdom.

How do we do that? By producing fruit.

Galatians 5:22 (KJB), “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

Some years back while studying for my bachelors’ degree, I took a class on “The Fruit of the Spirit.” It was at that time that I finally got a true understanding of what this ‘fruit’ was. The Spirit produces Love in us. All the other things listed in Galatians five are part of love. Think of an orange. Love is the whole fruit and each section is; joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self control. If we truly have love in our lives, we will produce the other things listed in this verse. For what is meekness without love, but false humility, what is goodness without love, only duty. Love is the motivation, the fuel that moves us to do good and to be better people. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit in us when we apply the Word to our lives. Our senior pastor, Dr. William Hohman, says it this way, “Love is produced by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us. Fruit isn’t a gift, it is produced.”

John 13:35 (NIV), “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

God has many plans and purposes for His children, but our main purpose it to multiply and bear fruit. We multiply by making disciples, by growing the family of God. The goodness of God, manifested in His love, is what turns hearts to repentance. So we have to sow love, plant the seeds of love so that we can produce love where ever we go.

Produce love! Be the Johnny Appleseed of Heaven and sow it everywhere!

I Have The Right

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I John 1:12 (NIV), “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (emphasis mine)

There is a lot of talk in our modern world about “rights.” Who has them, what kind, who doesn’t, why not, who needs them, animal rights, illegal alien rights, constitutional rights, parents rights, children’s rights, I can go on for pages! There is merit to some of the talk. I happen to agree with some of the statements made, and totally disagree with others. We won’t hash that all out today. Today I want to talk about the most important right that we have, as Christians.

We have the right to become the children of God.

I love to look up scriptures in different translations. Sometimes they will say it just a bit different and it becomes clearer. When looking up this one, each version used the exact same word- “right.”

Let’s take a look at that word that is thrown around so much.

Right: a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way.

Synonyms: entitlement, prerogative, privilege, advantage, due, birthright, liberty, authority, power, license, permission, dispensation, leave, sanction, freedom

We have the prerogative, the privilege, the advantage, authority, power, and permission to become the children of God. (Son means child in this case, male and female). It’s our birthright when we become children born of heaven, by the blood of Jesus.

It’s not a done deal just because we said a prayer. We get to “become” His son. How? By accepting His love for us, by knowing who He is, who we are in His eyes and heart, and by getting as close and intimate as possible with our Father.

I John 3:1 (NIV), “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

Lavished- that’s also a great word. It isn’t a small portion. It isn’t stingy. It is scandalous. It is a generous, extravagant amount. It is pouring an expensive, large amount of scented oil on the head of the One you love; it is cleaning His feet with your tears and drying them with your hair. It is a boat so filled with fish that it could sink. It is forgiveness in the face of an angry crowd ready to cast stones and with every right to do so. It is breaking the rules for love, healing on the Sabbath, eating with sinners, and getting intimate with lepers.

God, the Father, has lavished His love on us. Why? Because He wants sons. Yes, He had one perfect Son, who obeyed in every way, even unto death, a Son that shares everything and has perfect relationship with the Father. But, He still wants us!

Then once we acknowledge that we have the right to become His son, we step out in faith and let the transformation begin, we suddenly have all kinds of rights in the Kingdom, that no one can ever take away from us!

Heart Hooks

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Isaiah 61:1-3 (KJB), “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”

Have you ever been hooked by a fish hook? Maybe seen someone who has? I have several times, some of the stories are downright comical, others make you cringe just thinking about them. The thing about a fish hook is that you can’t just pull those things out. They have little barbs on them that are supposed to keep you from losing your fish.

I read a book recently where they used this analogy to explain the hurts in our heart. Those hurts are like fish hooks, full of barbs that are embedded in our hearts. You really can’t just pull them out. God knows this and cares about us so much that he takes them out the “easy way”. This involves pushing them through. It is still painful, believe me, it will hurt. However, it will not do more damage. Our Father knows the safest way to get them out. He can remove them without tearing our hearts to pieces. He is in the repair business not the demolition business after all.

We read in scripture about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, resisting, and then coming out of that experience full of the power of the Holy Spirit. He immediately started teaching in the synagogues. We read in Luke that He returns to His hometown, where He was raised and as was His custom, went to the synagogue there. He stands up and reads those words out of Isaiah. I enjoy the King James Version of this one because it reads that He came to “bind up the brokenhearted”. When I read this version, I always picture a torn and ravaged heart that He tenderly wraps in the gauze of His love, stopping the hemorrhaging.

That’s why He came. To heal our hearts. To show us that the Father’s love is more than enough to bind up any brokenness, to stitch up every wound, to break up every stony place, and to fill our hearts with His love (His love is “shed abroad” in our hearts.)

I found myself recently having to allow one of those barbs to be removed. I thought that the broken place had already been healed. Sometimes we don’t even know about a wound until God starts that gently pushing. Did it hurt? You bet. It also brought up some ugly stuff that I didn’t want to deal with. Yet, I have gotten smarter with every hook removed, so I allowed Him to do His thing. I was left feeling emotional, drained, and free! One more hurt gone. One more kiss from Daddy on the boo-boo. I am glad that just because we think everything is fine, doesn’t mean that He stops working on us. He knew I still harbored that hook. He also knew it was not part of His plan for my life. So out came the spotlight and there it was.

When that happens, the best thing to do is immediately surrender that hurt to God. Forgive anyone you need to, and ask Him to take it out. I used to reason with myself, make excuses, say things like, “I already got over that years ago,” or get on the bandwagon of lamenting all the hurts in my life, or take on a victim mentality. I learned the hard way that doing those things only makes those barbs reproduce. It makes the hooks grow, and it makes the process of removing them take even longer, and hurt a lot worse. That’s why it is important ask God to search our hearts. Allow the Holy Spirit to show us what’s really in there.

Psalm 139:23-24 (NASB), “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.”

This isn’t about just looking for sin, or bad habits, it is also looking for wrong thought patterns, unforgiveness, and unhealed hurts, every “hurtful way” in us. He is faithful, He is gentle, and His love can heal every wound.

Will you let Him?

Be Vocal

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Matthew 10:26-26 (NLT), “But don’t be afraid of those who threaten you. For the time is coming when everything that is covered will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!”

Christians should be the most vocal people on the planet. Not arrogant know-it-alls, or vain babblers chatting away about any trivial thing, not course jesters trying to get a laugh, but true witnesses of the goodness of God. We should be like Peter and John in Acts.

Acts 4:20 (NIV), “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

The Jewish religious leaders had just forbid them to speak about Jesus. They weren’t having it. In fact in verse 19 they say, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!”

We don’t have to go around beating people over the head with scripture. We also need to be discerning. Our Senior Pastor frequently says, “People just need a cool drink of water-not a fire hose!” We don’t want to push someone away instead of draw them in. So don’t get stuck thinking that everything we say needs to be about God, or His word, or about Church. It’s OK and good to ask about their day. It is friendly and polite to smile and say, “Have a good day” to the kid who bags your groceries. Tell your child’s teacher that you appreciate them, tell your elderly neighbor that if they need something to give you a call, and talk to your coworker about your weekend, or your family. Then, when the opportunity arises, and it will, tell them how much God has blessed you. Tell them how He wants to bless them. Talk about the message you heard at Church this week, or invite them to come with you to the next one.

Just be real- and be vocal.

You can’t get to know someone without talking. Once we really know someone they will allow us to talk about more intimate things. By you opening up to them about your life, they will feel comfortable telling you about theirs and that’s when the opportunities come to witness. When they remember that you stayed faithful during a hard time, they will ask you to pray for them when they are going through their own trial. We don’t have to preach, we just have to share.

Now isn’t the time to be shy. Time is running out. We aren’t just trying to make friends. We are growing the family of God. We are rescuing a lost and dying world by leading them to the One who loves them. We are bringing heaven to earth. You can’t be a silent witness. The world is full of “nice” and “kind” people, but that won’t get anyone saved. You have to open your mouth about your faith, that leads people to Jesus.

Be vocal. Be bold!

Right after being flogged and ordered not to talk about Jesus, this is what the believers prayed:

Acts 4:29-30 (NIV), “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Then They Will Know

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Ezekiel 39:28 (KJB), “Then shall they know that I am the LORD their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them anymore there.”

All through the book of Ezekiel God uses this phrase, “Then they will know that I am God.” Some may have a few words added like “The Lord God” or “Sovereign Lord” but they all say the same thing I started counting in the seventh chapter and gave up. Over and over again God uses these words as He is explaining to Ezekiel what He is doing, what Ezekiel needs to do, and what the prophet needs to tell the people. All of this takes place during the exile to Babylon.

I have often pondered the events that took place in Jerusalem all those years ago. At first glance, it seemed that God was a tad cruel. After a few readings I began to understand a little better. After years of reading through the Bible, I began to side with God, feel deep sorrow in my heart for His spurned love and care. Eventually I understood as much as I am able, of why He allowed His chosen people to go as slaves into other countries.

Let’s take a look at Ezekiel 16:4-14 (NASB),

“As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.   When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you numerous like plants of the field. Then you grew up, became tall and reached the age for fine ornaments; your breasts were formed and your hair had grown. Yet you were naked and bare.  Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord GOD. Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord GOD.”

Who is He talking about? Unfaithful Jerusalem. His chosen people. Unwanted, cast out to die, picture a baby still with its umbilical cord attached thrashing, hungry and cold in its own blood, in the garbage dump. Unloved! Then along came the Creator of the Universe and chose them. While they were in that state …He loved them. He had compassion. He cleaned them up, dressed them, covered their shame, and decked them out in jewels. Till they were exceedingly beautiful! What a perfect picture of Perfect Love. It’s better than any fairytale and more romantic than any novel, so we expect a happy ending for Jerusalem, right? The “she loved Him for all of her days, thankful for all that He had done for her.” Let’s keep reading.

Ezekiel 16:15- 22(NASB), “But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing. You took some of your clothes, made for yourself high places of various colors and played the harlot on them, which should never come about nor happen. You also took your beautiful jewels made of My gold and of My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images that you might play the harlot with them. Then you took your embroidered cloth and covered them, and offered My oil and My incense before them. Also My bread which I gave you, fine flour, oil and honey with which I fed you, you would offer before them for a soothing aroma; so it happened,” declares the Lord GOD. Moreover, you took your sons and daughters whom you had borne to Me and sacrificed them to idols to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter? You slaughtered My children and offered them up to idols by causing them to pass through the fire. Besides all your abominations and harlotries you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare and squirming in your blood.”

What? No way. After all this great Lover did for her, she cheated on Him! Can you feel a little righteous anger rising up in you? Can you see things from the eyes of the one who was spurned, mocked, laughed at, and stolen from? Now before we get all self-righteous… He is also writing about me. You. His Church. The Bride of Christ. Weren’t we unwanted, unloved, cast out to die, hungry, and cold wallowing in our own blood, our own filth, in the refuse heap. Then along came the Lover of our souls. Yet, while we were in that condition He loved us. He had compassion. He saw something in us that no one else did. He cleaned us up, dressed us, covered our shame, decked us out in jewels. Till we were exceedingly beautiful.

Our own sin took us there, that awful place where the unwanted, used up, garbage goes. He took us out of the dump and placed us in a palace. He exchanged our ugly garments stained in dirt and blood and dressed us in robes of praise. He did that.

Jesus said that those who were forgiven much, loved much. Yet look at Israel. They turned their backs. How could they? They didn’t really know who their Lover was. When we know Him, really truly, know Him, we won’t leave. Never. We will be like Job and when those around us say, “curse God and die” we will reply, “I know that my redeemer lives, and even if He slays me, yet will I praise Him!” Job lived before grace, so did those adulteress Israelites, but even now under such glorious, scandalous grace, people still turn away from Him. If only they understood how much He loves them. If only they realized that no matter how “green” things look on the other side of the fence, it’s all lies, an illusion, its mirrors and parlor tricks by our enemy to lure us away. Or no matter how rough the path we are on looks, it’s His way. He planned it, He knows where it ends, and He walks with us.

Even after all of Israel’s sin. He saved a few faithful. His word did not return void. Some “knew that He was Lord” because of all they witnessed. Shouldn’t all of His goodness cause us to say, “I know that He is God, He truly is my Lord, the Lover of my soul?”

He will gather them back, if you stray, He will call for you, asking you to come back to Him.

But, the best plan would be to never leave, to remain faithful to your first love, to love Him all the days of your mortal life and for eternity beyond this one. To dedicate yourself to pleasing Him, to showing His love to others, to proving how much you love Him by word deed. It may be lawful for us to do anything under grace, but the question shouldn’t be “is it legal” but “does it please Him?” Don’t run away from the best thing that ever happened to you. Let yourself be “exceedingly beautiful” under His love. Show the world your beauty. It will glorify Him.

Then they will know… that He is Lord.