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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Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Heart for God

Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.                                    Psalms 73:25  NKJV
Most of us have had the opportunity to either fall in love, or know someone who believed they were in love with someone else.  As a father of three daughters, I certainly had plenty of opportunity to observe the changes that occurred when my girls believed they were in love with a boy.  Looking back at those times now makes me laugh, but at the time I can certainly remember experiencing much different feelings.  Watching them change the way they dressed, the way they talked, the way they acted, and especially wanting to be wherever their “friend” might be was something I wasn’t quite prepared for as a father.

Yet the point of this is simply that when someone is in love with someone else, it produces an obvious change which is observable simply by watching their actions.  As we have been discussing the differences between what the Word describes as a true believer rather than a “fake” believer, one of the things that comes to mind concerns the changes which we could expect to see in someone who claims to be a believer. Those who profess to have committed themselves to a loving relationship with God should naturally exhibit the desires anyone has when they are in love.
With that idea in mind, I believe there are at least three desires which we could reasonably expect to see in the life of someone who has a heart for God.

A desire to know God.
“Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.”           Exodus 33:13  NKJV

In this prayer, Moses tells the Father that his desire is to “know” Him.  The Hebrew word for know is “yada’” which is translated; to learn to know, perceive, discern, distinguish, to know by experience.  Obviously this is not referring to a casual friendship, but rather a deep, serious relationship where Moses wants to understand how God thinks, what He wants, and how best to serve Him.  This is an example of a desire to totally commit oneself to understanding God and His ways in order to please Him by doing only those things which we know He would approve of.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.    1 John 4:7-8  NKJV

A desire to experience the presence of God.

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek. Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.       Psalms 27:8-9  NKJV
How important is it to you to spend time in the company of someone you love?  Most of us can relate to, and understand the desire to spend time with the one we love.  In this passage we see exactly how important it was to David to spend time in the presence of God.  The desire of his heart was to “seek” the face of God and to experience a relationship where the possibility of separation was so frightening to David that he literally pleads with God not to hide his face from him.  How much time do you think believers should spend with God compared with the time spent on other relationships?

Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.                 1 Peter 2:1-3  NKJV
A desire to see God’s glory.

[[A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.]] O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.            Psalms 63:1-3  NKJV
When I think about the glory of God I think of two things.  The first is what happens in the Bible whenever someone experienced the glory of God firsthand, and that is that they immediately fell on their faces in worship to Him.  The presence of the Glory of God produces worship, and I can think of no other desire that shows a believers love for God than the desire to worship Him.  The second is that those who experienced His glory firsthand had an immediate change in their physical appearance.  Have you had the opportunity to observe the change in someone when they think they are in love?  When we as believers seek God’s glory, it will reflect in our outward appearance.

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.          2Corinthians 4:6  NKJV
Do you have a heart for God?  Is your relationship with Him the most important relationship you have?  If so, that love should be obvious to everyone we come in contact with.  How?  Our desire will be to study His ways until we know exactly what He would want us to do in any situation.  We will want to spend as much time with Him as we possibly can in order to experience the love He has for us.  Most of all as we seek to worship Him we will reflect His glory in such a way as to show the world that the love He has for us is a life changing love which is available in no other than a personal relationship with Him through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

Do you have a heart for God?
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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Where's the Change?

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.                 James 2:14-17  NKJV
When we began to look at the last words from Peter, Paul, and John, we found they all gave the same warning of false believers infiltrating the Church in the last days.  We looked last week at the statement Jesus made at the end of the Olivet Discourse where He warned that at the time of judgment, many would claim to be believers yet be condemned because in His words, He never knew them.  With that in mind, I thought today we would look at the subject of how we can look at ourselves with the idea of knowing for certain that we are indeed, followers of Christ.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.    2 Corinthians 13:5  NKJV
The first thing I notice about this passage from Paul is that he instructs us to examine “ourselves”, and not others.  How often do we turn a critical eye on others to see if they measure up to our standards of behavior when truth be told we should be looking in the mirror at our own reflection to see if we are exhibiting the image of Christ who lives inside of us?  In the Greek, both “examine” and “test” are verbs, which indicate action in that we are expected to put our claim of being believers to the test by looking for the actions which are proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

To many, the best test is to look for examples of actions which not only reflect the indwelling Holy Spirit, but also would probably not occur if not for the presence of the Spirit inside.  There is a big difference between doing something you would normally do anyway, and doing something “out of your comfort zone” as a result of the leading of the Holy Spirit.  In a world where putting our own interests before those of others is the norm, and looking after number one is the catch phrase of society, having a servant spirit is a very good way to tell if a change has taken place.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Philippians 2:3-4  NKJV

Lowliness of mind is not just saying to ourselves that others are truly better than we are, but acting on that belief by serving others and putting their needs before our own.  This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult attitudes a believer is called to possess, especially in a world where selfishness and pride in personal gain is not only expected, but often glorified.  As true believers we deal with the problems of pride and selfishness by first adopting the attitude that everyone else is better than we are, and then secondly by asking ourselves if we spend more time taking care of someone else’s needs rather than our own.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  Philippians 2:5-7  NKJV

If anyone ever had a good reason to consider himself a little better than everyone else it would have been our Lord.  Yet He chose to not only give up His position at the right hand of God the Father, He also made the choice to be a servant to mankind.  I like how Ray Stedman explained this passage in one of his teachings.
“But having all this, the argument goes, He did not count all these things to be held onto at all costs, but he emptied Himself. He did not empty Himself of his deity-he couldn't do that, just as we could not empty ourselves of our humanity no matter hard we tried, because we are human, and all we do is an expression of our humanity. When Jesus entered this world, stepping out of eternity into time, He could not empty himself of his Deity. That needs to be made clear. What He could and did do was empty Himself of every expression of Deity. He did not come to manifest what God was like. He came to show us what man ought to be. He did not give up His rights as God. He gave up his right to enjoy the rights of God. It began in his mind with this thought, Paul says, that the enjoyment of these things is not the most important thing to me. In other words, He did not insist on His rights, but laid aside the right to have His rights, and emptied Himself.” 
Did you notice the phrase “He did not insist on His rights”?  I believe this is where the true test of a believer lies, and where it will be manifested by testing.  How do you react when you encounter a difficulty with someone else?  What do you feel and how do you respond when someone else treats you in a manner you believe is unfair as a result of a disagreement?  Humility is made evident at this point when believers give up their “right” to respond and accept the indignation in the same manner Christ accepted the unfair persecution and ridicule which resulted in His own death.
Jesus made the decision to humble Himself even unto death with the knowledge that the end result would be His resurrection and glorification in the presence of the Father.  So too, should we as believers look forward to our reward in Heaven, rather than the temporary rewards of personal gain we might enjoy here on earth by putting our own needs before those of others.  True believers are changed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which then produces a spirit of humility along with an attitude which puts the needs of others first and accepts the consequences no matter what they are.
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