Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Power of Pentecost

And being assembled together with [them], He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," [He said], "you have heard from Me; "for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
Acts 1:4-9 NKJV

Quite a few years ago while playing softball on my church league team, I had occasion to break my wrist rather severely on a collision at home plate. The result was having my entire arm put in a cast even up to and past my elbow for a period of six weeks or so. This was probably one of the more uncomfortable periods in my life because I was told to do absolutely nothing with that arm or hand until the cast came off.

You can imagine my relief when the time finally arrived where the doctor felt the bones had healed enough for the cast to come off. Of course, having never broken anything before it came as a severe shock to find out that although the bones had healed, the result of being totally immobilized for that length of time was that my arm was completely useless! The muscles had weakened to the point that I could barely lift my arm much less do anything with it. What followed was a few weeks of serious physical therapy in order to build up the muscles to the point where they were before the accident.

Wanting to do something and not having the power to do it was a pretty helpless feeling for me, and in a way, when I read this passage about Jesus leaving the disciples I think in a way they may have felt the same. They had witnessed, and been a part of, some very powerful moments in the last three years and yet they were facing the loss of what to them was the source of that power. It is at this point that Jesus tells them that He is going to send them a helper in the person of the Holy Spirit in just a few days.

It seems they did not at first understand exactly what Jesus was saying to them for they asked if that would be the day the kingdom would be restored. I wonder if this was the point where they knew something needed to be done, but like my useless arm, also knew they didn't have the power to perform it. Jesus goes on to explain that the plan was for them to be witnesses of all they had seen, and the Holy Spirit would be the source of the power they would need to accomplish that task.

I can't help but wonder, though, if even with the words of Jesus in their ears were they really prepared for the events that occurred on the Day of Pentecost just ten days later.

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and [one] sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
Acts 2:1-6 NKJV

Can you even begin to imagine what this must have felt like to them? From the setting, it would seem the disciples were all together in a house when all of a sudden this sound occurs that obviously could be heard by not only the disciples, but the city of Jerusalem as well. Then what appears to be balls of fire appear and sit on each of them, and they begin to speak in different languages! Because it was Pentecost, Jerusalem was filled with Jews from other nations of the world, yet each of these heard the disciples speaking in the language of their countries.

Now some might think that the disciples knew what was happening and just “went with the flow” but I have a feeling these men were as shocked as the people around them. Imagine having coffee with some of your friends and suddenly you hear the sound of a hurricane type wind and balls of fire appear sitting on each of you and you begin to speak in a language you never even studied! I would have to say Jesus wasn't exaggerating when He said they would “receive power”. The best part of this, however, is that this was not a gift to just the disciples but a gift to the Church which means anyone who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior receives this same Spirit to indwell and empower to serve Him.

Pentecost is considered by most as the beginning of what we call the Church Age, or the birthday of the Church as we know it. Many believe that the rapture of the Church will happen on it's birthday also, which will result not only in the removal of all believers, but of the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit as well. The removal of the Holy Spirit seems to be supported by a passage in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians concerning the end of the age, and the beginning of that period of time called the tribulation. Some of them had heard that this time had already begun yet Paul tells them that “He who now restrains” must first be removed. Most scholars identify the restrainer as the Holy Spirit at work in the body of the Church, and the removal refers to the rapture of all believers at the end of this age.

And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains [will do so] until He is taken out of the way.
2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 NKJV

Anyone who has studied the events of the period of time the Bible calls the tribulation cannot help but be appalled by what occurs when evil is “unrestrained”. Yet does all that happens during that time not show just how powerful the presence of the Holy Spirit in His believers right now is? The only thing that is holding back Satan's forces from destroying the entire world is the power of the Holy Spirit, and that same power is alive inside of each of us who believe.

It was a helpless feeling for me to want to use my arm and yet not have the power to do so. There have been many times when I also wondered if I had the power to do something I knew God wanted me to do. It's at these times we need to remember just how powerful the Holy Spirit inside of us is, and we need never fear that we somehow lack the power to accomplish any task He sets before us.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Living Water

Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from [His] journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink." For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? "Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?" Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, "but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
John 4:6-14 NKJV

Time and time again I have found that when the Spirit tells me to write on a subject, He tells others to do it as well. It may seem strange to you, but many times I write on a subject only to discover after posting that the exact same subject, and even the text is taught by others not only online, but in pulpits across the country. Long ago I came to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit orchestrates the sharing of His Word to address the needs of His Church at the opportune time. This week He moved my thoughts to water, and the importance we place on it for life.

It is of course, Spring, and around here people are preparing to plant their gardens and watering their lawns, and we are receiving the annual water report from the irrigation district which tells the farmers how much water will be available this season. We had a great winter for the snowpack in the mountains so we will have all the water we will need this year, which is good news for everyone. I also happened to have a discussion with one of my daughters about how much water a person needs to drink every day in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. So as I considered the subject of water and its importance for life, I couldn’t help but think about Jesus and His teaching about “living water” to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

While I am sure most of us are familiar with the account, what struck me as I read it again was the simplicity of Jesus’ presentation of the Gospel . I think a lot of believers, myself included, tend to make sharing the Gospel a little more complicated than it needs to be, so today I want to share three things I see when looking at this account.

Jesus recognized her need. Jesus knew there was a well in town that she could draw water from, yet she had to come to this well to get her water. Since it was a woman’s job to draw water for the household, she obviously had a problem from other women which prevented her from drawing at the well in town. When we find later that she had been married five times, and was presently living with a man she was not married to, it makes sense the other women in town might not enjoy her company. So even though it broke a few social rules to even talk to her, Jesus recognizes her need and starts a conversation in order to share the Gospel with her. I think the point here is that if we but take the time to observe those around us and the choices they make concerning their lifestyles, it will become obvious to us who is in need of hearing the Gospel of Christ.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 3:23 NKJV

Jesus gave her the answer. Who doesn’t want to live forever? By using the term “living water” Jesus makes her curious enough to ask for an explanation which changes the course of the conversation from “why are you talking to me” to “what are you talking about”? Although she at first does not understand what Jesus is referring to, the possibility of receiving something she doesn’t already have makes her curious enough to ask for an explanation. We see in verse fifteen she thinks her problem is just having to come all this way to draw water, but Jesus knows it’s the reason she has to come all this way that needs fixing. So Jesus begins to share with her that the answer to her problems could be found in the form of living water, which is a gift from God, and it is available to her if she only is willing to ask Jesus for it. The trouble is, she doesn't know who Jesus is, which is why she asks Him how He intends to get the water.

Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'
John 3:5-7 NKJV

Jesus showed her how to receive it. Up until now, the woman saw Jesus as just a man, so it is now that Jesus begins to reveal to her just exactly who He is and what He came to do. He does this by telling her what He knows about her life; the choices she has made in the past, and the choice she is presently making by living with a man she is not married to. Immediately the conversation becomes spiritual to her, for she understands that there is no way Jesus could have known these things unless He was a prophet from God. She also reveals she has a knowledge of spiritual things by talking about worship, and the fact that she understands that the Messiah is coming. It is now that Jesus looks at her and simply says, “I who speak to you am He”. Does she believe? Her reaction is to leave her waterpot and go immediately back to the city to tell everyone that she believed that Jesus was the Christ, and to come and see for themselves.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 1:12-13 NKJV

Most of all what I see in this story is that the woman knew she had a need, but simply didn't know how to fill it. Did you notice how hard Jesus had to try and convince her of that? All Jesus had to do was recognize her need, tell her the answer, and introduce her to Himself. How many people do we meet everyday who already know they have an empty place in their lives and simply need to be introduced to Jesus? Jesus didn't have to convince the Samaritan woman of anything, he simply had to introduce Himself as the Messiah.

Have you ever been introduced to Jesus? Have you ever made the decision to ask Him to come into your life and receive the “living water” which results in eternal life? If not, you can right now by praying this prayer and accepting that gift God has offered you by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I believe You died for my sins. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank You for saving me. Amen.

Keep watching.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

God's Timeout?

I'm on vacation this weekend so I decided to “reshare” a post from about this time back in 2009 which deals with the upcoming Feast of Pentecost which occurs on Sunday the twenty seventh of this month. If you were to somehow force me to pick one day out of the year which I believe the rapture would most likely happen, (you can't), I suppose it would be this one. No matter where my studies have taken me in the past, the uniqueness of this day in relation to the church has always intrigued me. I hope you find something here that will make you feel the same.


I don't think it would be a stretch to assume that most, if not all of us are familiar with what a "timeout" call is. In most sporting events, the ability to stop or freeze the clock for a period of time is called a "timeout". Of course, it follows that when the timeout is over and the clock starts again, it starts exactly where it stopped when the timeout was called. So what does this have to do with a study in eschatology?

Well, most Bible scholars agree that Israel could be called God's clock, since God did in fact tell Israel through the prophet Daniel that they had only a specific period of time for their history to unfold. This is what is known as the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel. It is also acknowledged that God's clock stopped at the end of sixty-nine weeks to allow the beginning of what is known as the Church Age, or the period in history where believers in Jesus as the Messiah would build His church, and end with an event known as the rapture. So the question is, exactly when did that happen, and does it have any significance in our study of the end times according to the scriptures?

This month is when the Feast of Pentecost takes place, and there are many reasons why this particular feast is considered to be very important to believers today. First of all, if you read about the birth of the church in the book of Acts, chapter two, you find that it occurred on the Feast of Pentecost, exactly fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits when Jesus rose from the dead. So it is, in fact, the birthday of the Church as we know it. This was the day that God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell those who chose to believe in Jesus, providing believers with "power" as described by Jesus Himself.

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:8 NKJV

This is also the day, according to most all biblical scholars, that God's clock with Israel stopped, or for the sake of this blog, He called a timeout. Is this important? Maybe we can answer that with an examination of some of the events, and traditions, associated with the Feast of Pentecost.

One of the greatest love stories to be found in the Bible is the Book of Ruth. It is a story of how a gentile, (non-Jew), was "redeemed", or bought with a price, by a "kinsman" or relative (who was a Jew) according to Jewish law, and then becomes the bride of her redeemer. This story takes place in Bethlehem, (curious), the events transpire during the fifty days between the barley and wheat harvest, (interesting), and the redeemer takes his bride at the end of that time, or at the Feast of Pentecost. (coincidence?) It is the tradition of the Jews to read the book of Ruth on Pentecost every year, much as we read about Jesus birth at Christmas, and His resurrection at Easter.

Another rabbinical tradition is that Enoch was born on Pentecost, or the 6th of Sivan as it occurs on the Jewish calendar. Enoch is an interesting individual considering that he was the first prophet in the Bible, and his first prophecy was of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Jude 14-15). Even more interesting is that the Bible tells us he did not die, but was "taken" by God (raptured) (Genesis 5:24). Also intriguing is the fact that it is a Jewish tradition that he was taken on his birthday, or Pentecost.

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 NKJV

In this passage, the apostle Paul tells us that the "trump of God" will sound at the rapture of the Church. The sounding of a trumpet to call the people into the presence of God is said to occur only twice in the Bible, here and and in the book of Exodus where God gives the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

'Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot [with an arrow]; whether man or beast, he shall not live.' When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain." Exodus 19:13 NKJV

By now it should come as no surprise that if you read from the beginning of the chapter you will find the events at Mt. Sinai also occurred during Pentecost. Now strange as it may sound, I'm going to venture away from the Bible for my last point, and share something with you written by Josephus, who many of you may recognize as a person who lived at the time of Christ, and was commissioned by the Romans to write a history of the Jews. His works have long been acknowledged to be not only very complete, but proven time and again to be historically accurate. The following quotation is from one of his works and refers to something that was reported to have occurred during the Feast of Pentecost.

Josephus, "Wars of the Jews" VI. V. 3

Thus there was a star (20) resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, (21) [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour.

"This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it. At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner (22) [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night (i.e., MIDNIGHT). Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them.

"Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call PENTECOST, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, THEY FELT A QUAKING, AND HEARD A GREAT NOISE, AND AFTER THAT THEY HEARD A SOUND AS OF A GREAT MULTITUDE, SAYING, "LET US REMOVE HENCE."

Many believe that God's clock with Israel is going to start exactly where it left off, on the Feast of Pentecost. As we have seen, there are more than a few references to a "rapture" type event associated with the Feast of Pentecost. Will the Church be raptured on it's birthday? Of course, I can't say. But I hope I'm not the only one who finds it more than curious that there seem to be so many events common to this particular day of the year. Jesus commanded us to watch for His return, and I for one think it very important to take Him at His word.

Keep watching.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

How To Cope With Suffering

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of [this] life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel,
2 Timothy 2:3-8 NKJV

While most of us are familiar with what are referred to as the signs of the end, there is one which I often find sort of flies under the radar so to speak, and that is suffering by believers. Now you would think that with all of the examples in the Bible about believers suffering this would not be the case, yet many of us begin to question whenever we experience pain or hardship of one sort or another. I know I have done it, and I'm sure most of you have too because it is a natural reaction whenever something like this happens.

In this passage, Paul warns Timothy that suffering is going to be part of the territory that comes with choosing to serve Christ. You notice Paul doesn't say you “might” have to experience it, or it's “possible” you will experience it, he says we “must endure hardship” if we are one of His soldiers. I know many people who have chosen to serve our country in the military and the one thing most all of them agree on is the fact that even though they chose to enlist, in hindsight they had no idea of some of the things they were going to experience.

Paul not only tells Timothy, and us, what we are going to experience, he also gives us three attitudes we need to possess in order to deal with what will come. He illustrates each of these with an example of three different vocations in order to help us remember the keys to coping with suffering.

Dedication. A good soldier dedicates himself to the cause he serves, and no matter what he experiences he never loses sight of the objective he is fighting for. In any battle, there are two sides fighting against one another, and as a result there are always casualties of war. Some are wounded, some are fatal, but imagine if you will an army made up of soldiers who turn and run whenever there is a chance of suffering. How successful would that army be? We as believers have chosen to enlist in God's army and to serve Him by reaching out to an unbelieving world with the gospel of Christ. Paul says there will be hardship but he reminds us that we should always remember we dedicated ourselves to serve our Lord.

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
Philippians 1:9 NKJV

Discipline. The second illustration Paul uses is that of an athlete running a race. He reminds us that in order to compete we must abide by the rules of the competition. I was fortunate enough to participate as a member of a relay team while competing in college and if there is one race in track where you can get yourself disqualified quickly it's a relay. There are judges everywhere checking to make sure you don't step out of your assigned lanes, interfere with another runner, and you must pass the baton within an assigned zone. I've seen some amazing performances negated by a disqualification and the agony on competitors faces is painful to watch. It seems that Paul is telling us here that although there may be pain while running between the lines, there is even more suffering if we run outside of the lines.

But I discipline my body and bring [it] into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:27 NKJV

Diligence. Finally Paul uses the example of a farmer working his crops to illustrate to us the attitude of diligence. I live in a rural community where farming is still the most important part of the local economy. I truly believe you can't appreciate how hard a farmer works unless you live where you can watch them work their fields. Have you ever noticed most farm equipment comes equipped with lights? You can see farmers working before sunrise and long after sunset every day of the growing season in our valley and you have to wonder sometimes if they ever sleep? They prepare the soil, they fertilize, they plant, they water, they cultivate, they weed, they nurture, and then finally they harvest. Paul rightly refers to the successful farmer as “hardworking”, and it doesn't take a lot of thought on our part to understand what he is trying to tell us. Suffering is going to be a part of our lives as believers and if we are to be successful we must be diligent. If we quit and take the easy road when pain and suffering show up we will never produce a crop.

And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure;
1 Corinthians 4:12 NKJV

The question many would naturally ask is if this is all worth it? Satan's master plan is to make the Church ineffective, and the way he does that is by discouraging believers by pain and suffering. Paul's final bit of advice in this passage is to remind Timothy, and us, that the reason we chose this path in the first place is because Christ died and rose from the dead to deliver us from sin. No other gospel can say that, and Paul's advice is for us to never forget what Christ has done for us. Not only did He die for our sins, He experienced more pain and suffering than most of us ever will. If Christ suffered unto death, is it too much to ask that we endure a little pain and suffering for His sake?

Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and [saying], "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ."
Acts 17:2-3 NKJV

Paul tells us that if we make the choice to accept the sacrifice Jesus made for us we will experience pain and suffering. But he also tells us how we can cope with it successfully by adopting three attitudes which will prevent us from the discouragement that accompanies suffering. Remember the soldier, the runner, and the farmer and adopt the attitudes that will help us cope with suffering. Most of all never forget how much Christ suffered for us, and the fact that He is waiting just as we are for the time when we will be together in Heaven, experiencing the victory of finishing the race.

Keep watching.