Sunday, December 29, 2013

Four Women

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David the king. David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah.       Matthew 1:1-6  NKJV
How many of us at one time or another have read, or possibly skipped over, this first chapter of the book of Matthew and wondered why it was even included?  Although placed first in the New Testament, of the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the book of Matthew is generally agreed to have been written later than Mark, and possibly Luke.  These three books are called synoptic (from two Greek words meaning to see together) because they all tell of the same events of Jesus’ life.

The book of Matthew, however, was written especially to the Jews by Matthew who was himself a Jew, with the intent of convincing them that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  As such, the very first thing he does is list Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Abraham.  In the Jewish culture, nothing was more important than a persons’ genealogy.  If one desired to be called a Jew, he must be prepared to prove it by his lineage.  Even Josephus, the well known Jewish historian, lists his own genealogy when he wrote his personal biography.
So if Matthew were to begin the task of trying to convince the Jewish people that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the promised Messiah, the natural beginning would be to list His ancestors.   As you read this list of names, though, you may notice something quite unusual especially if you understand the Jewish culture of that day.  If not, let me give you a hint by telling you there are a number of prayers of blessing in the Talmud which are recited in the mornings by men, one of which thanks God for not creating them a woman.  With that in mind, consider the response by a Jew when he was to read this passage from Matthew and find the names of four different women listed in it!

If that were not enough, it goes without saying that of all the women whose names could have been listed, God instructed Matthew to list four that most Jewish men would have taken great pains to exclude.  These four are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba).  If these women are not familiar to you, let me take a minute and introduce you to them. 
The story of Tamar can be found in Genesis 38 where we find her dressing as a prostitute and having a sexual encounter with her father in law. 

And it was told Tamar, saying, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” So she took off her widow’s garments, covered herself with a veil and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place which was on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, because she had covered her face. Then he turned to her by the way, and said, “Please let me come in to you”; for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. So she said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?”                    Genesis 38:13-16  NKJV
Rahab appears in Joshua 2 where we find she is a prostitute practicing her profession in the city of Jericho. 

Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there.             Joshua 2:1  NKJV
The story of Ruth is detailed in the book of Ruth where we find she is a Moabitiss from the country of Moab, a people hated by Jews because of their origin by incest between Lot and his daughter, and their treatment of the children of Israel on their journey through the wilderness after leaving Egypt as well as hiring Balaam to curse them.

Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day.  Genesis 19:36-37  NKJV
“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD forever, “because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.  Deuteronomy 23:3-4  NKJV

Bathsheba is probably the most recognizable of these women due to her adulterous relationship with David, the King of Israel.
So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house.     2 Samuel 11:3-4  NKJV

I have no doubt that the first question to cross the mind of any Jew who read these words, and no doubt ours as well is “why include these names when it wasn’t necessary”?  Considering God deliberately chose to do so should be a sign to us that we should consider that question in order to find some of the possible reasons He did.  The very first one that came to mind for me is this;
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  Romans 3:23  NKJV

Because Jesus was born of man, all of His ancestors were sinners.  There is no way around that fact.  By making this clear, He is telling the Jews that no matter how important they might consider their lineage to be, everyone shares the same trait of the stain of sin.  No one's genealogy is any better than anyone else's in God's eyes. I will let you spend this week thinking of other reasons these four women are mentioned, and next week I will share more of my thoughts on why God felt it was so important to include them in His genealogy.
Keep watching.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Greatest Gift of All

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. "And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Luke 2:1-16 NKJV
As the world will celebrate Christmas this coming week, I thought I would share with you a question I have been asked many times, especially at this time of year and that is; "was Jesus really born in December"?  To answer that question we need only to look closely at the story of His birth told to us in the gospel of Luke and carefully consider what is said there.

First we should look at the description given as to what the shepherds were doing when Jesus was born. In Luke 2:8 we find that the shepherds were in the fields tending their flock at night. Not an uncommon occurrence when in season, but certainly not around December 25 when it's winter in Israel and the lows at night are in the 30-40 degree range. Shepherds in Israel would usually stop taking their flocks out in mid-October and not resume until the spring, so that could be our first clue that a December date is inaccurate.

The second thing we can look at is related to the winter as well. In Luke 2:1-3 we see that a decree was given by Caesar that the whole world should be taxed. As a result, everyone was to return to their "own city" for the purpose of registering their payment. How logical would it be for Rome to ask everyone they wanted to tax to travel in the winter when not only was it cold, but snow was possible at any time? Somehow it just doesn't seem likely this would happen. After all, remember Rome was after money, so why make it hard to collect?

The best indication, however, of just when Jesus was born can be found in the first chapter of Luke when we are told of the conception and birth of Jesus' cousin John the Baptist. When we are introduced to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, we are told in verse 5 of chapter 1 that he was a priest "of the course of Abia", or Abijah. It says also that he was beginning his service in the temple when he was told by the angel Gabriel that he was about to become a father. We know from  1 Chronicles 24:10 that the course of Abijah was the eighth course to serve in the temple. This would mean his service would have ended around the month of July. Assuming a normal term of pregnancy, John would have likely been born around April of the next year.

Why is this important to our question of when Jesus was born? If we look at Luke 1:36 we see that when Gabriel visited Mary to tell her about what was about to happen to her, he also said that Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist and Mary’s' cousin, was in her 6th month of pregnancy. This means that Jesus was to be born approximately 6 months after John the Baptist. Look at John being born around April, and you end up with Jesus being born around September. Is it possible that Jesus was actually born in September rather than in December as we celebrate it?

I think if we accept what the Bible tells us as being accurate; it would seem to be exactly what the Word is telling us. But if we assume this to be correct, I want to throw out one more fact to consider. By now most should realize the importance of events in Israel’s' history occurring on their Holy Feast days. If you have read some of my teachings, I know you are familiar with this subject. After the Israelites were delivered out of the bondage in Egypt, while in the desert, God told Moses that there were to be seven feasts celebrated throughout the year. Three occur in the spring, one in the summer, and three more in the fall. If we assume a normal 280 day pregnancy, and then place Johns' birth in April and Jesus' birth in September we find it is not only possible, but probable that John was born on the Feast of Passover, and Jesus was born on the Feast of Tabernacles, also known as Sukkot.  You might want to also think about this. Why was the city of Bethlehem so crowded that Joseph and Mary could not find any room? How about the fact it was The Feast of Tabernacles, one of the three feast days that all Jewish men were required to attend in Jerusalem, and everyone who could possibly make the trip was there to celebrate?

If Jesus wasn't born on December 25, why do we celebrate it at that particular time? There are no records of the early church even celebrating Jesus' birth, so a logical question would be why and when did the world begin to do so? The first mention of December 25 was in the Calendar of Philocalus in 354 A.D. In it Jesus' birthday was assumed to be December 25, 1 A.D. This calendar was compiled sometime after Emperor Constantine's "Edict of Milan" in A.D. 313. This edict in essence ended the persecution of Christians which had previously been the hallmark of the previous governments in Rome, and allowed Christians to practice their faith publicly without fear of persecution. But why choose the date of December 25th to celebrate Christ's birth when there was sufficient evidence to support a September birth?

The answer to that question may be found in an understanding of the times in which the edict of Constantine was made. Up until this time, the world, with the exception of believers of Christianity, could best be described as pagan. As such, it should not be a surprise to find that the pagan world had its celebrations and holidays as well. When the emperor Constantine published his edict, the church was faced with the problem of a calendar which would include holidays from both Christianity and paganism. It would appear then that their answer in resolving that dilemma was to substitute the Christian holiday for the pagan celebration. If that answer seems strange to you let's take a moment to look at the origins of what we celebrate during this season of the year.

The date of December 25 was officially set by the church in 440 A.D. in an apparent attempt to replace the existing Roman holiday called Saturnalia. Most pagan religions throughout history have worshipped the sun in one form or another as the provider of warmth and light. The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, occurs at this time of the year in the northern hemisphere. It was at this time in the month of December that pagan celebrations were created in an attempt to please the sun gods so the days would again become long and the sun would begin to stay in the sky longer.

Genesis 10:8-10 introduces us to Nimrod, founder of Babylon, a city which has become synonymous with rebellion against God. Isaiah 47 clearly tells us that the occultist traditions and practices we know about had their origins in Babylon. Nimrod and his queen Semiramis had a son called Tammuz who was thought to have died during the winter solstice. The tradition arose that his death would be memorialized by burning a log in the fire. The Chaldean word for infant is Yule, and this seems to be the origin of the tradition of burning the "Yule Log". The next day, after the Yule log had burned, it was replaced by a decorated tree.

The Romans also worshipped the god Saturn. His celebration occurred on December 17, at which time the people would decorate their homes with evergreen boughs and give presents to one another. The roman emperor Aurelian, 270-275 A.D., combined the solstice celebrations of the pagan gods Apollo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, and Thseus into one celebration called the "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun" on December 25 as well.

So is it hard to understand why the church fathers would choose to proclaim December 25 as the official date of Jesus' birth? By doing so, it would appear that they tried to replace the pagan celebrations with what they considered to be one of the most important reasons the world has to celebrate, the birth of our Savior and Lord. As such, the obvious question that comes to mind is what can we do as believers to see that Christmas remains a celebration of the birth of Christ, and not the commercial event it has become?

Possibly one way would be to truly study the story of Jesus' birth to find the things that make it unique, and obviously divine in nature. One of my favorites is found in the presents brought to the child Jesus by the wise men. I'm sure most, if not all of you can tell me the names of those three gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But my question to you is what is the significance of those particular gifts? You see, at that time the gift of gold would signify His deity; it was a gift given to a king. The frankincense would by symbolic of His purity; in Jesus' case obviously His sinlessness. However, what was the meaning of the gift of myrrh? The truth is, myrrh was a spice used in embalming bodies after death, and so what sort of gift is that to give to a child? Well in hindsight, we can argue these gifts were prophetic in that they celebrated not only Jesus' deity and purity, but His coming death as a sacrifice for all men. How so? Look at Isaiah 60:6 where we are told of the gifts brought to Jesus after He comes again the second time. Notice they bring gold and frankincense, but no myrrh? The reason for that is that He only had to die once, and that has already been accomplished for us as the greatest gift we could ever receive.
If you have never taken the step of accepting this gift of eternal life, I urge you to do it right now.  Simply pray a prayer like this one and confess to God your need for salvation, and accept the gift He provided for you by the death and resurrection of His own Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus I know I am a sinner. I have sinned against you, but I know you loved me enough to send your Son, Jesus Christ to die for my sins and then rise from the dead so that I may live forever with You. Lord forgive me of my sins and come into my life and help me to begin to live for You. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Keep watching.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Check Your Bowels

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.  Colossians 3:12-13  KJV
I expect right about now you are wondering just what in the world the title of this blog means, and if I am serious about what I am asking you to do?  To be truthful, the first thing I wanted you to do was laugh, yet after that I think we should all look closer to see what exactly God wants from us in this instruction from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

Although most of you have noticed by now that I normally teach from the New King James Version of the Bible, you should know I read and study from many different translations in order to be sure I understand exactly what is being said.  Doing that, at times, produces some rather interesting ideas such as the one I want to discuss this morning which starts with the word “bowels”.
Without knowing it, you are probably more familiar with this concept than you initially imagine.  In the ancient world, most believed that our deepest emotions came from our “bowels”, or if it makes more sense, our “gut”.  I think most of us have heard or even used the expression “gut feeling” when referring to making a decision or expressing an opinion about something we believe to be important.  The Greek word used here to refer to the bowels is splagchno which translated means; bowels, intestines, (the heart, lungs, liver, etc.) the bowels were regarded as the seat of the more violent passions, such as anger and love; but by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, esp. kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence our heart (tender mercies, affections, etc.) a heart in which mercy resides.

Now does this concept begin to make more sense?  As believers, we are expected to be different than the world around us, and Paul tells us here that the first step in that process is to change our “gut” by putting on “bowels of mercies”.  He explains it by comparing the process to our daily ritual of putting on our clothes before we appear in public.  The word Paul uses here is endyƍ, which literally means to put on your clothes.  I am sure most of us spend more than a little time every morning deciding exactly what we are going to wear, and making sure that we look presentable before we appear in public.  Paul is basically saying here that as believers, “the elect of God”, we are to put on these mercies every day just as we do our clothes.
Since most if not all of us would never consider going outside of our homes without our clothes on, does it not make sense that as believers we should never go out without putting on our “mercies”?  Even more important is the idea that we need to put these mercies on as they are not a “natural” part of our makeup.  Many of us might expect that by making the decision to follow Christ, these qualities might somehow become our “natural” state, but it would appear that it doesn’t work quite that way.  Many times in Paul’s letters to the churches he teaches us that we need to make the effort to change our natural man into a godly man.  In fact, just a few verses before this passage Paul tells us this;

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,  Colossians 3:8-10  NKJV
Since this doesn’t appear to be a “suggestion” but rather more like a “commandment”, why don’t we take a closer look at what we are expected to wear in the world around us.

Compassion…the bowels of mercies simply means that we should look at everyone we meet with the same compassion God feels for us, which is basically with a heart of pity and sympathy for the state we are in.
Kindnesshaving the spirit of concern for others that results in treating them with respect which quite often is undeserved.  It is a natural result of the first attitude of compassion.

Humility…which is the attitude that every man or woman is better than we are, and we should never feel that we are better in any way that those around us.
Meekness…which could also be described as gentleness.  It should never be confused with weakness, but rather it is a willingness to control or relinquish our strength in order to avoid conflict.  Jesus was the perfect example of strength controlled by relinquishing His “rights”.

Longsuffering…which is simply another word for patience.  Do you react with patience when others test you with their argumentative or combative nature?  Are you willing to take what they give without reacting in kind?
Forbearance…is the next step after longsuffering in that not only do we not react in kind, we actually put up with the actions of those who might desire conflict.  It literally means to “endure”, or stand tall in spite of what comes our way without giving in to the desire to retaliate.

Forgiveness…the last but certainly not the least of the qualities we need to put on is forgiveness.  Paul also makes it clear that he is not referring to forgiveness as we might see it, but rather forgiveness such as God the Father has for us.  That type of forgiveness is the type where past grievances are totally forgotten, never to be brought up again.  How difficult is that to us when the natural reaction is to remember everything someone else has done to us, and later use it as ammunition against them. True forgiveness means suffering a wrong, and being willing to pretend it never happened and not allowing it to affect our actions towards that individual again.
Just as we get up every day and consider what we are going to wear, Paul tells us to first “check our bowels” to be sure we are dressed with the spiritual attitudes God expects His believers to wear.  I think it reasonable to conclude Paul is telling us it would be a good idea for all of us to worry more about wearing the right Godly attitudes than wearing the right clothes.

Keep watching.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Think Before You Speak

Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.        James 3:5-8  NKJV
Have you ever heard, or ever used the term “practical advice”?  It refers to the concept of receiving instruction or advice which we can use or practice in the reality of our daily life.  Many of us, myself included, have probably used this idea to avoid learning something in school that we may not have liked by saying we would probably never use it in the real world.  Unfortunately in my case, I can remember doing that then, and later regretting that I did because an occasion arose when it became apparent that I could use the knowledge I rejected learning.

The book of James could easily be called a book of practical advice to believers on how to conduct themselves in everyday life.  It contains instructions on what kind of behavior is expected from us when we encounter the trials and hardships this world can throw at us.  It is generally accepted that the James who wrote this book was in fact James the brother of Jesus.  While scholars have come to that conclusion for other reasons, my thoughts concerning his authorship come from another direction entirely.
Many of us have also heard of a phrase made popular by a movie to come out of Hollywood many years ago which simply asked the question; “what would Jesus do”? When I read the book of James, it occurs to me that what James was writing about were his observations of how Jesus reacted to the trials He faced every day.  Can you imagine walking along with Jesus on a daily basis and learning from His example how to deal with everything life can throw at us?  This is what I believe we find in the book of James, and the advice we receive from him.

James begins his book with a statement many of us are familiar with, but one which all of us should take to heart as preparation for what this life will entail.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.          James 1:2-4  NKJV

If you are like me, the first thing I notice is that James doesn’t even bother to try and convince us that it is possible to go through life without trials.  He simply gives us practical advice based on the foregone conclusion we will all face trials.  His advice to us is to be happy about it because the result will be learning patience, which seems to be the foundation upon which our faith is built.  In the first two chapters James tells us the importance of how we choose to live, and then in the next three he warns us of specific problems we need to be especially aware of.  We find the first one listed in the passage above from chapter three which deals specifically with what we can call “sins of the tongue”.
Now I always have in the back of my mind the thought that the first thing mentioned is probably the most important one in the mind of the author.  Considering that, I had to wonder why after warning us of trials, James begins talking about our tongue?  Could it be that when we encounter difficulties or conflicts with others our first reaction is to strike back with our speech?  Thinking back to what would Jesus do and the possibility James is reflecting on what he observed Jesus doing, I thought of this passage from Isaiah concerning Jesus and His troubles.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.         Isaiah 53:7  NKJV
If ever someone had a reason to speak out it would be our Lord and Savior.  Yet His way was to remain silent and accept what was given without speaking out.  If we all choose to think back in time, how far back do we have to go to remember when someone did or said something which offended us and we never said a word?  James is telling us that of all the ways we can hurt our testimony as believers in Christ, the easiest and most common is with our mouths.  Speaking out without thought of the harm our words can cause is the easiest way to hurt not only others, but our testimony for Christ.

Whoever guards his mouth and tongue Keeps his soul from troubles.         Proverbs 21:23  NKJV

Do you have any idea how many times the words “mouth”, “tongue”, “speech”, “words”, etc. are used in scripture?  We could easily make the point that the most important subject concerning the behavior of believers is how we use our mouths.  James warns us of the dangers of a mouth that has no control.  Do you think before you speak?  Do you stop to consider the possible effect of the words you want to say?  Do you ask yourself “what would Jesus do”?  If we want some practical advice to consider this week, let us all remember to think before we speak, so that our words may glorify our Father in heaven.
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.        Colossians 4:6  NKJV

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.         Ephesians 4:29                 
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.                              Matthew 15:18  NKJV

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.       Luke 6:45  NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Is the Earth Afraid?

The waters saw You, O God; The waters saw You, they were afraid; The depths also trembled. The clouds poured out water; The skies sent out a sound; Your arrows also flashed about. The voice of Your thunder [was] in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook. Your way [was] in the sea, Your path in the great waters, And Your footsteps were not known. You led Your people like a flock By the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Psalm 77:16-20 NKJV

 I wrote this a while ago, but in light of some recent things I have observed, I thought it might be appropriate to post it again with an update. When I talk with people about the command to watch, the question naturally arises as to just exactly what are the sorts of things we should watch for?  That is a very good question, and one that I believe every one of us should ask ourselves in light of what the Word tells us about signs of the end of the age and the nearness of Christ’s return.

 In this passage from the book of Psalms, the author is troubled and in despair so he thinks back to the past and the times that God manifested Himself in human history by actions man could only describe as supernatural. The verses above refer to the time that God led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt and through the Red Sea on their journey to the promised land. Now I think the important point to make here is that although Moses and Aaron were used by God to shepherd His people, it was God Himself who led them.

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, [from] before the people.
Exodus 13:21-22 NKJV

Now why do I think this is important? Look closely at the passage from Psalms and notice what the author says the reaction of the earth was to the presense of God. Do you see what I see? We are told the waters were afraid, the depths trembled, there was a downpour of rain, thunder along with lightning that lit up the entire world, and not to mention earthquakes that shook the earth. Yet to me, the most important part of this passage is the fact that it does not say God “caused” these things to happen, rather it was a response of the earth to actually “seeing” the presense of God.
Right about now some of you are probably thinking wait just a minute here, do you really believe the earth can “see”? Well, why not? Not only do these verses say it does, we are told elsewhere that the earth can talk too.

Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: " 'Blessed [is] the King who comes in the name of the LORD!' Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." But He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out."
Luke 19:37-40 NKJV

So if we are to believe what the Bible tells us, the earth has and can react to the presence of God in physical ways, some of which might surprise us. Is that really so hard to believe? After all, the earth was created by God just as we were created, so who knows what physical reaction could be produced by the approach of the power which created it? This is the question that I would like you to think about in light of some of the things happening in the world right now.

Most of us would agree the Bible clearly teaches that there will be signs that precede the return of Christ, many of which are physical in nature. Events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis can explain many of the events described as occurring just before Christ returns. Many of these things are beginning to happen right now in various places in the world, and most of those who are watching and waiting for His appearing believe the time is very close. Jesus Himself said this about the signs that would appear just before His return.

"So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near--at the doors!
Mark 13:29 NKJV

So here is my question for today; does God cause these things to happen, or just like the events in Exodus when God comes to earth to lead His people away, is the earth reacting to the approach of God once again? Is it possible that the increase in frequency and intensity of physical events is because the nearness of Jesus returning for His church is causing a physical reaction by the earth?

"Then the earth shook and trembled; The foundations of heaven quaked and were shaken, Because He was angry.
2 Samuel 22:8 NKJV

I want you to consider this, and then follow the link I post here and wonder as I do if we are seeing the earth possibly warning us that Christ is nearer than many of us think.

Is the earth afraid?

Keep watching.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Reason for Thanksgiving

Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, "How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. "My Father, who has given [them] to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch [them] out of My Father's hand. "I and [My] Father are one."
John 10:22-30 NKJV

 There is an old Jewish saying that I have read many times over the years which says simply that “coincidence isn’t kosher”.  I don’t recall when I first read that, but it is something that I have always remembered when I study the Word because of my personal belief that God intended every word, and even the very punctuation to be placed exactly where we find it.  I believe this is exactly what Jesus was referring to when He made the following statement to the disciples in what we know as the Sermon on the Mount.

“For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  Matthew 5:18  NKJV

It is because of this that I have become very sensitive to the structure of God’s Word as well as the content, and one of the things I habitually do is look to see where and when certain words are repeated in scripture and how they are used in order to better understand the meaning of what I am reading.  I recall as a parent using certain words, and often repeating them at times, when I wanted to make a point to my children in the hope that they would remember whatever it was that I was trying to convey.  I believe God has done the same thing in His Word to us, which is why I always take a closer look when I find certain words which are repeated.
As we are approaching our holiday of Thanksgiving, I am sure most of you have heard that the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is “coincidently” occurring on the same day as we celebrate Thanksgiving.  I have read many commentaries and articles lately which discuss this, and offer reasons and speculations which may or may not be accurate concerning why this is about to happen. Now it is possible you might believe that this is simply something that is bound to occur over time because of the differences between our solar calendar, and the Jewish calendar which is lunar.  I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that, yet in a world which we know was created by an omnipotent God, an obvious question to ask would be did He do this on purpose, and if so, what could be the reason?

Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, is considered to be one of the minor holidays in Israel, and is not one of the seven major feasts instituted by God in the Old Testament.  Yet we do find it mentioned in the New Testament in this passage from John, and when we read these verses we find that it plays a rather important part in the life of our Lord.  I have always found it curious that throughout His early ministry, Jesus seemed to go out of His way to avoid stating specifically that He was the Messiah, the Son of God.  It almost seemed as if He was waiting for a particular, appointed time to do it, and on this particular day, the Feast of Dedication, we find that Jesus was asked this very question as He walked in the temple.
Since Jesus answered this question the way He did, this was obviously the day He was waiting for. Yet it is not the fact that Jesus answered the question plainly and unequivocally that caught my attention, but rather His use of a particular word in His answer which I find not only interesting, but rather intriguing considering we know He chose His words carefully and deliberately.  You see, twice in this passage Jesus uses the word “snatch” when referring to His “sheep”.  Now as I have said, repeating a word always gets my attention so I first of all wanted to look closer at the original Greek, and also look to see if it is used elsewhere in the Word and the context in which it is used.

When I did this, no surprise, I again was reminded why studying the Word is so much fun to me.  The word for “snatch” that Jesus uses here is harpazo, meaning to seize, carry off by force, to claim for oneself eagerly, to snatch out or away.  I’m also sure most of you recognize this as the very same word used by Paul in Thessalonians to refer to the rapture of the Church.  The word rapture simply comes from the Latin translation of harpazo, and this is the event that we as believers are all looking forward to with great anticipation. 
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. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.                                  1 Thessalonians 4:16-17  NKJV

Obviously my first thought was that this is not a coincidence, but rather an intentional use of the same word.  Unfortunately though, the next step is to try and come up with an explanation as to why?  This is where most of us could probably come up with our own, and probably very different explanations.  Many have speculated in the past, however, that Hanukkah would be a perfect time for the rapture of the Church for many different reasons.  Of course, although I might agree, I also firmly believe that the rapture could occur on any given day and is not restricted to any of the Jewish holidays. 
Yet the use of the word harpazo on Hanukkah by our Lord, and the fact that both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, will occur on the same day this coming week, certainly gives one pause for thought.  Is God, through His Word trying to give us a clue as to when He will send Jesus for His bride?  Well as they say, coincidence isn't kosher, but I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that is the case. Yet wouldn’t it be appropriate to experience the harpazo on our day of Thanksgiving?  I would love for that to happen, especially as I will have the pleasure of the company of all my daughters coming home to celebrate Thanksgiving here this year.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, and as we give thanks for all that we have, may we all remember to give thanks to God for His gift of salvation to us through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  If you have never made the decision to accept that free gift I encourage you to do so today.  Simply ask God to forgive you of your sin based on your belief that Jesus died to pay the price for your sin, and turn over control of your life to Him.  You can do that right now by praying a prayer just like this one;
"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."

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  NKJV
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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Consider Your Ways

Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways! “You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways!   Haggai 1:5-7  NKJV
Although Haggai is considered to be one of the minor prophets, there is certainly nothing “minor” about his prophecy to the nation of Israel.  Haggai was the first prophet to appear after the end of the Babylonian captivity and when the Jewish people were again living in the land of Israel.  His prophecy towards the people was one of judgment from God because of their neglect to rebuild the Temple, something they had been given permission to do when they were released from their captivity.  This prophecy was given because fifteen years had passed and the people still had not finished the rebuilding, but rather had turned their attention to selfish personal ambitions.

Although the book of Haggai is just two chapters long, the word “consider” is used five different times by Haggai as God commands the people to examine their actions and the motivations behind them.  The word for consider in the Hebrew is suwm which is translated to put, make, set, lay, ordain, to bring to pass.  I found it interesting that nowhere does it say “think about it”, which would probably be our answer to the meaning of “consider”, but rather God is saying “do something” or “change” your ways because they are wrong.
Because they had chosen to ignore His instruction to rebuild the temple, God chose to remove His blessings from them in order to show His displeasure at their actions.  Haggai tells us that although the people were working very hard for personal gain, God decided to take it all away as a sign to them that no matter how hard they might work, if following God’s instructions were not their priority, nothing they did would bear fruit. 

You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” says the LORD of hosts. “Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house.    Haggai 1:9  NKJV
For the past few weeks we have been looking at warnings of what to expect as the end draws near written by those who founded the Church as we know it. What we found is an explicit warning that the very foundation of the Church, the Gospel of Christ, will be in danger because false teachers and false believers will infiltrate and attempt to change the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.  As I thought about the message from Haggai, I immediately began to wonder if we too, at this time, find ourselves facing the same sort of situation as found in Haggai.

The people who God had charged with the responsibility to rebuild the Temple were instead focused on their own lives, looking for personal comfort and gain.  Rather than making obedience to God’s instructions their priority, they were instead putting all their efforts into trying to improve their own situation by working for themselves.  As a result, God tells them to consider their ways.  In the situation we find ourselves in today in regards to the Church, and understanding the lateness of the hour, should we too listen to the admonition from God to consider our ways?
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?                  Matthew 6:24-25  NKJV

Now I am sure most of us work very hard at our jobs, knowing that the work we do brings us the means to provide for ourselves and our families.  There is certainly nothing wrong with that, especially if you consider that it is God who arranged for us to obtain the work that we have.  Yet if you look closely at the message from Haggai, it is obvious that what God is displeased with is the fact that the people focused all their efforts towards personal gain while ignoring their service to God.  When Haggai tells the people the message from God is to “consider their ways”, he is telling them to make their service to God the priority in their lives.
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.                           Matthew 6:31-33  NKJV

The questions we must ask ourselves today is are we focused on serving God, or are we making the same mistake that the people did in Haggai?  Our trust should be in God to provide for our needs, and focus our efforts to protect the message of the Gospel.  A few weeks ago we looked at the message Paul gave Timothy and I believe if we are to consider our own ways, we should look at it again.
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.                                         2 Timothy 4:1-2  NKJV

As believers, our charge is the same as given to Timothy.  Our focus, our time, our efforts, should all be to make it our priority to spend time in the Word and be prepared to defend the faith.  If not, don’t be surprised to find God bring all our efforts to nothing just as He did in Haggai.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.        2 Timothy 3:16-17  NKJV

This week may we all “consider” our ways.
Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.   Hebrews 13:20-21  NKJV

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