Sunday, December 27, 2015

Suit Up!

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;    Ephesians 6:13-17  NKJV

I'm sure most of us are familiar with the picture of a coach giving his players a pep talk before the big game. I know I've seen many examples on the television, as well as experiencing some back in the days when I was active in sports. Everyone is suited up, ready to go out and do battle, and the coach calls everyone together for a last minute talk before they enter the playing field. How many of us though, have ever really given that picture a lot of thought? I mean, just why does the coach do that? Haven't they done all the preparation in the preceding week? Obviously, if so many coaches do it there must be a good reason and purpose behind it.

In this passage from Ephesians we see that Paul essentially does the exact same thing. In reality, he gives us a little pep talk before we go out to do battle and reminds us of the reasons we need not fear. In these verses Paul makes the point that there are four things God has already done for us that have prepared us for what we will face. At first we are told to put on the whole armor of God, which, if you think about it, obviously is very important or Paul would not have repeated himself so quickly. But there may be another reason as well, and that is that we are being reminded because it is something that may be easily forgotten! I guess sometimes the simple things are the first to be forgotten, so Paul here is simply reminding us not to forget.

From here Paul goes on to describe the pieces of our armor. I think it is important to note that when Paul reveals these first pieces, he introduces each with the past tense verb "having". In other words, we have already been issued our armor and he is simply reminding us that we should already be wearing them. When was that you ask? Well, I believe what Paul is telling us is that we received these when we made our decision to allow Christ to come into our lives and asked forgiveness of our sins. In other words, when we became Christians, we were issued these pieces to wear once and for all, and Paul is simply reminding us that we should be wearing them.

The first is the "girdle" of truth. Now some of you might be surprised to find you are wearing a girdle, but let's see if I can explain this in a way you can understand. In the Roman Army, soldiers wore short skirts not unlike a Scottish kilt. Over this, they wore a longer cloak which was cinched at the waist by a girdle, not unlike a wide belt. When they prepared to go into battle they would tuck their cloak up under the girdle to free up their legs for quick movements. It was the first thing they did before battle, so what Paul is saying here is the first thing we need to do before battle is be reminded that we are fighting for the truth! When we made our decision to follow Christ, we decided Jesus was truth embodied, and we believe in His promises. We are not fighting for something that is false, but we fight for the truth of God, and His message to us. This is usually where Satan attacks us first, trying to get us to doubt the truth in which we have chosen to believe.

The second thing Paul tells us is that when we first believed, we put on the "breastplate of righteousness". Now it's easy to see that the breastplate protects our "vital" organs. These are the parts of our bodies that ensure our very lives. But what is righteousness to the believer? It is our standing before God, and the assurance that we are an acceptable sacrifice to Him. How often does Satan attack us with doubts about our worthiness to approach God? He points out our weaknesses, our shortcomings and failures, hoping to cause us to doubt. What Paul is reminding us here is that when we believed, Christ became our "righteousness"; in other words although we can never do anything on our own to approach God, Jesus did it all by sacrificing Himself for us. It is His sacrifice and His righteousness that allows us into the presence of God.

The third piece of armor Paul tells us about is the shoes we wear called the preparation of the Gospel of Peace. Now as someone who spent many years running, I can tell you that good shoes are one of the most important pieces of equipment you need to run a race. How often does Paul describe our Christian lives as a race? And we are talking about a long one, not a quick sprint, so the shoes we wear need to go the distance. But the word translated "equipment" or "preparation" depending on your translation, actually means "readiness" in the Greek. So what Paul is telling us here is that the third piece of our armor is actually a mental one. It is the knowledge and confidence in the Gospel that gives us a "peace" or calmness and courage. In other words, there is no need to be afraid of anything Satan can throw at us because we are at peace with the knowledge of the Gospel we believe in.

Fourthly, Paul reminds us of the necessity of taking up the shield of faith.  This to me, personally, seems to be the most important one.  Why?  Simply because our adversary is not going to allow us to go through this life without a fight.  We are told often enough in scripture that we will be persecuted as believers, and I am sure all of us have stories to tell of different ways Satan has made our lives miserable with personal attacks which were intended to cripple our witness.  Most of us have had the opportunity to be burned in some way by fire.  I’m sure we can all agree on how much it hurt, how painful the recovery, and even the scars that were left behind.  The darts from the evil one are described as “fiery”, so there is no question they are intended for harm.  Yet the promise from God is that His shield can quench them all.  Not just some, but all.

Finally we are told to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit with us as we go into battle. Now I don't know about you, but when I read this, the first thing I thought of is the use of the phrase "And take". It's almost as if it's a reminder because it's something you often forget. Do you remember your mother telling you as you went out the door in a hurry not to "forget" something? I almost get that feeling here. It seems like Paul is telling us not to forget our helmet and sword on our way out. Why would we do that? Well, most often by being in a hurry. It may well be that Paul is trying to tell us that when we know we are going into battle, or we feel we are coming under attack, don't be in such a hurry to fight that we forget two very important pieces of our armor.

Why so important? I think we may be able to answer that if we remember how Satan chooses to attack. Remember we found that he always attacks what we have chosen to believe. He tries to create doubts, so what we need most is protection of our thoughts. Paul tells us that the "helmet of salvation" protects our head, or mind, by helping us remember that we are saved. No matter what, once we have made the decision to accept Jesus into our hearts we are saved. No one can take that away, so our minds can be protected by the knowledge of our salvation.

We are also instructed to take up "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God". Now most people would say this is an offensive weapon, and in fact, many commentaries do say this. Though I wouldn't necessarily disagree, within the context of this passage where we are being told that we are to be "defensive", I wonder if we need to look at it in a different light. Notice first of all that Paul mentions the sword along with the helmet in the same sentence. He also goes further by using the word "and" to tie them both together. That tells me they must work together, or sort of "hand in hand". How so? Well if we are to use the helmet to guard or protect our minds, the sword, which Paul describes as the word of God, must also protect our mind in some way.

A verse that comes to my mind when I think of this is Psalms 119:11 where it says that "Thy word have I kept in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." You see, although the word of God is most certainly an "offensive" weapon, it is also used defensively to keep us as believers living godly lives which then are a visible witness to an unbelieving world. Look at Hebrews 4:12 where Paul again tells us that the word is "sharper than any two-edged sword", but then goes on to say that it is "able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart". So in fact, we as believers are being told we need to use the word defensively by using it to control our thoughts and actions.

How like a good coach Paul is being here. We are getting ready to go into battle for our Lord, and Paul takes the time to remind us that we are already prepared to do battle because we are wearing the pieces of armor that were gifts from God when we first made the decision to believe. All of these are designed to give us confidence and peace going into battle. Are you ready for the coming year and the battles we will engage in?  The closer the Church gets to our deliverance, the more we will need to be wearing our armor.  As my coach used to say; “suit up”.

Keep watching.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Gift of Life

As Christmas arrives this coming week, our thoughts are, and should be focused on the greatest gift of all which is the birth of a Savior for a sinful world in the person of Jesus Christ.  His death and resurrection for our sins could not have been possible if not for His miraculous birth to a virgin named Mary, chosen by God to carry and give birth to the Savior of the world.  His birth was made even more special to me this week as I was able to hold two new lives in my arms yesterday as my oldest daughter gave birth to twin girls on Thursday afternoon.  Yet I am sure the feelings I had as I held them did not compare to what Mary felt as she held Jesus in her arms knowing it was a miracle from God.

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 we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, I hope we remember that He was born to die, so that we can live. While we celebrate His birth by giving gifts to one another, may we never forget that it was His gift to us, the ultimate sacrifice, which allows us to make the choice to accept Him as our Savior and become one of His own.

If you are reading this today and have never made the decision to allow Jesus Christ to come into your heart, and accept the free gift of eternal life He has offered you, I urge you to do so right now. You can do that by simply praying this prayer and accepting the gift of eternal life God has offered all of us by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

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

Keep watching.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Season of Giving, or Getting?

“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”                             Luke 12:20-21  NKJV

Christmas is rapidly approaching and along with it comes the normal anticipation of just what we might find waiting for us under the tree on Christmas morning.  I’m sure most of us have memories of when we were children and the hopes we had looking at all of the presents that had our names on them.  As parents, I’m equally sure we have the memories of our own children and how excited they were at this time of year as they counted down the days until Christmas morning.  Yet while we enjoy this time of year and all that accompanies it my question to you today is this; in all of the excitement of the season, is it possible you have overlooked the one person most deserving of a gift?

Many of us are familiar with this passage from Luke, but as is often the case, sometimes we can overlook parts of the passage by generalizing the message.  You see, if you ask ten people what this passage is about they would probably say greed or selfishness.  Yet what would you say if I said it was about stealing from God?  Now if that sounds a little harsh, I suggest we look pay attention to the phrase “and is not rich toward God.”   Why “toward” God?  The answer to that lies in the realization of where all that we have comes from in the first place.  The Word is very clear on that subject; all that we have comes directly from God the Father.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.  James 1:17  NKJV

Have you ever received a gift from someone at Christmas whom you didn’t expect to get one from?  What was your reaction?  If you are like me, your first thought is to run out and buy one for them as well.  It would just seem to most of us to be a natural reaction when receiving a gift from someone else that you would want to reciprocate in some way.  Yet if we apply that train of thought to our relationship with God, and acknowledge that the Word is clear about the source of our gifts, are we really as concerned with giving back to God the way that we should?  If not, exactly how does that appear to God?

You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.    Malachi 3:9-10  NKJV

Holding back from God is considered to be robbery.  Now while most of us might not look at it quite that way, God makes it perfectly clear He sees it that way. The phrase “try me now” is also translated “test me”.  It is the Hebrew word “bachan” which literally means that God is telling us that if we don’t believe Him, test Him!  See if He won’t deliver on His promise to literally give us more than we know what to do with.  It introduces something I have come to call the circle principle, which God has proven to me over and over again.  It is simply this; as He gives to me, I simply give back all that He has asked for.  As long as I do that, God has always given me more.  As He gives me more, I then give Him more, and the end result is an increase in blessing.  I now find that what I am left with after giving God what is His, is steadily more than what I used to have when I held back.

“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”                         Luke 6:38  NKJV

What I failed to do, and what many other believers fail to do, is to take God at His word.  As I thought about that, it occurred to me that in essence, I was really calling God a liar.  As hard as it is to admit, that is really what it comes down to.  You either choose to take God at His word and believe Him, or you don’t.  For quite some time I found very reasonable excuses to give back to God a little less than I should have and then always wondered why I could never get ahead.  Thankfully there came a time where I realized what I was doing and made the choice to test Him as He asked, and as you would expect, He kept His word and blessed me more than I even expected.

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.      2 Corinthians 9:6-8  NKJV

This is the season in which we celebrate giving.  Not only did we receive the greatest gift of all, God’s Son in flesh to deliver us from our sins, we also, by receiving that gift and becoming a part of God’s family, receive the promise of His generosity towards us in ways we cannot even imagine.  All we need to do is simply remember Him when it comes to our giving, and give to Him first all that He so richly deserves. We all love to receive gifts, especially at this time of year but the question remains, have you first given to God that which is His?  Test Him and see.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  John 10:9-10  NKJV

If you have never made the choice to accept His gift of salvation to you, I pray you would do it today.  Just pray and ask Him to forgive your sins and to take control of your life, because you believe His Son, Jesus Christ was born, died, and rose again so you could have life, and have it more abundantly.

Keep watching.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Shaken not Stirred

See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.    Hebrews 12:25-29  NKJV

Though not entirely unexpected, I am still nonetheless curious as to why so many are exhibiting surprise at the violence we are seeing not only around the world but now, obviously, here at home as well.  I am convinced that the reason some are being taken by surprise is that they may have held the mistaken belief that the conflicts we are seeing are simply disagreements between cultures or religious beliefs which some feel compelled to radicalize.  I would like to suggest that this view may be a little shortsighted in that it ignores the fact that we are told without question that there is a war going on all around us that we do not see, and that is the war in the heavens.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:12  NKJV

My question for you today is simply this; “do you really believe a war between heavenly forces in the heavenly places would not spill over into our world?”  While we may not be able to visibly see what is going on around us, it certainly makes sense that we would see the effects manifested in some way in our dimension.  I would further suggest that the closer we get to the end of this age, and the more intense the battle between the forces in the heavens gets, the greater the effects in this world will be.  Does it not then make sense that the increasing violence we are seeing now is a reflection of that escalation?

I believe the fact that the writer of Hebrews chose to quote from the Old Testament book of Haggai concerning the shaking of the heavens and the earth is a clue that there is yet a future time where God will again shake His creation in order to reveal Himself as God in such a way as there will be no question as to what is happening.  There is no doubt in my mind that the “perilous times” in which we are now living is simply proof that this time has arrived, and in fact, will steadily get worse. In the book of Isaiah we are even told that the heavens, as we understand them, will be completely changed and actually rolled up to reveal the awesome power of a mighty God over His creation.

All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree.    Isaiah 34:4  NKJV

The purpose, however, is not to only reveal Himself and His power over His creation, but to also reveal that which cannot be shaken to the disbelieving world.  This is, of course, the kingdom of those who have chosen to accept the gift of salvation offered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.  While we might naturally be concerned with what we are seeing occur almost on a weekly basis, the truth is that we are promised in the passage from Hebrews that we are part of a kingdom created by God that will be untouched by the shaking He tells us will come.  Ray Stedman puts it this way in his teaching on this passage from Hebrews;

Jesus answers his frightened disciples again and again: "Be not troubled." "Let not your hearts be troubled." "Be not afraid." "Fear not, for I am with you."

This is the word which cannot be shaken today. What should our response be? The writer of Hebrews says two things: First, "Therefore let us be grateful" -- grateful hearts, praise and thanksgiving to God that we have a place to stand when all around is being shaken.

Has your home been shaken this year? Mine has. And it is great to have a place to stand which cannot be shaken. What praise rises from my heart to God for the unshakable things which cannot be removed!

When everything else begins to rock and shake, when our foundations are trembling and there is upheaval on every side, how grateful we ought to be for things which cannot be shaken.

Having grown up in Southern California, I have experienced my share of earthquakes and the feelings of helplessness you have when you realize you have no control over what is happening.  One of the things I realized from experience when subjected to shaking such as an earthquake is that your first reaction is to try and grab something solid to hang on to, as if that is going to help somehow.  As I thought of this, I could not help but notice this portion of the passage from Hebrews;

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably”

How do we serve God acceptably?  In this time of shaking, many will look for something solid to hang on to.  If we as part of the “kingdom which cannot be shaken” appear to others as having something to hang on to, is it not a perfect opportunity to “serve God acceptably” by sharing the good news of the Gospel of Christ? 

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.    Matthew 16:16-18  NKJV

The rock Jesus speaks of here is the statement by Peter that Jesus is the Son of God.  Anyone who confesses their sins and asks for forgiveness believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God becomes part of this rock, the “kingdom which cannot be shaken”.  The shaking we see was prophesied by God thousands of years ago as a sign of the end of the age.  Time is running out for those who refuse to believe, and become a part of the Kingdom of God.  Have you made your choice yet?  If so, rest in the knowledge you cannot be shaken by all that is happening around us today.

Keep watching.

PS.  As I was finishing this post I came across another on the same subject written Friday by Alf Cengia, a contributor to the Omega Letter and someone I respect greatly.  I have included the link so you can read his perspective as well.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Signs of the Times

This week, like many of you, was a week not only of Thanksgiving, but visits by family and friends.  As such, I chose to take a week away from writing but still wanted to share something with you.  Today’s post is borrowed from the Omega Letter, a website I frequent for the many wonderful commentaries it contains.  The following is from Pete Garcia, one of my favorite writers, and an extremely knowledgeable teacher. I hope it blesses you as much as it did me.

COE Part II: A Chosen Generation by Pete Garcia

Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time, a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.  And devout men carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him.  As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.  Acts 8:1-3

After Christ ascended the disciples waited in Jerusalem for ten days until the Feast of Pentecost began.  It was then that in a most spectacular fashion the promised Helper, the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 disciples as a mighty rushing wind and upon each of them who believed as ‘cloven tongues of fire’.  They began speaking in other languages, so much so, that it began drawing attention to the rest of the Jews there that had gathered for the Feast of Pentecost.  It was then that Peter, the group’s leader stood up in the Temple area and began preaching his famous sermon, heavily pulling from the prophet Joel and began by saying…Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem…

That day, nearly 3,000 Jews came to faith in Jesus the Christ.  The Jewish Sanhedrin had thought that by publicly humiliating and brutally killing their leader, Jesus of Nazareth, that it would dissuade future converts and be the death knell to their fledgling cause.  But now that appears to have backfired and the Sanhedrin were getting desperate.  In their desperation, they sought more drastic and violent methods to quell this growing movement.  Enter Saul of Tarsus.

Saul, having proven himself worthy at the stoning death of Stephen, was on his way to Damascus to continue his work of persecuting and imprisoning these early followers of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t know Jesus Christ personally but thought the audacity of a man to claim equal power with Yahweh was blasphemy worthy death. But it was on this road that his life and that of human history would be forever changed.

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.  Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”  Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  Acts 9:1-5

God then selected a man named Ananias to care for Saul…and for good reason, Ananias was hesitant at first.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”  Acts 9:15-16

And suffer he did.

From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting’s often, in cold and nakedness (2 Cor. 11:24-27)

Saul, who would later have his name changed to Paul, would go on to become the biggest contributor and architect of New Testament theology.

He attributed himself as the ‘least of the apostles’, and one born out of due time but would be used by God as His preeminent spokesman to the Jews and Gentiles concerning all the major doctrines we study today.  Saul was in his former life, a Pharisee trained under Gamaliel, from the Tribe of Benjamin, and was presumably very well versed in the Hebrew Scriptures.  But what Paul came to know and teach concerning this New Testament came directly from Christ Himself.  Considering the first words that Christ ever spoke directly to him would come to shape his understanding and nature of the fledgling Church for the rest of his life.  Saul wasn’t simply attacking believers of Christ, he was attacking Christ Himself.
This Church, whom Christ Himself is building through God the Holy Spirit, was not just believers waiting on a promise.  These believers were and are the corporate, multi-membered body of Christ, of which, He is the head of.  (Col 1:18; Eph. 5:23)

The Church then is the universal body of believers, who have been baptized into this unified body, not through water, but by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:13-14)  This diverse body of believers has been and is currently adding members to this corporate body ever since.  But this filling of the Body of Christ will not go on indefinitely.  There is a number and name, known by God, at which the ‘fullness of the Gentiles’ comes in.

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  Romans 11:25

Although Paul was not the first to mention the concept of the Rapture of the Church (John 14:1-3), he was the first to systematically teach and explain this mystery.  That just as the Church had a sudden and miraculous beginning (Pentecost; Acts 2), likewise it will have a sudden and miraculous ending (the Rapture; 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15).

Connected to, but different from the fullness of the Gentiles is the Age of the Church…of which we have been in for almost 2,000 years now.  It is believed by many that this was chronicled ahead of time by Christ in the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches found in Revelation 1-3.  These letters can be matched to the seven churches that Paul wrote as well as the seven kingdom parables found in Matthew 13.  These letters serve a four-fold purpose in their divine expository;

    Admonitory for all churches
    Towards individuals as well as congregations
    Due to their arrangement, spell out (or outline) prophetically, the epochs’ the Church    would transition through.

The Church as a body of believers is neither Jew nor Gentile, but a new group altogether. (1 Cor. 10:32)   But over time, who and where the Church came out of began to become less and less Jewish, and more and more Gentile.  The church began exclusively with Jewish believers centered in Jerusalem, but as Paul’s (and the other apostles) missionary journeys began to spread the Christian faith around the known world, Gentiles flocked to the light of the Gospel. (Starting in Acts 8:4-8, and 10)  An unfortunate and probably unintended consequence of the Gentile converts was that they intentionally (and unintentionally) brought in customs and rituals which over time, began to change the nature and teachings of the Christian religion itself.  By the 3rd century, Christians almost exclusively came out of Gentile communities.

Having been sacked in 70AD by the Roman legions, Jerusalem, and the temple lay in ruin and the Jewish people had been scattered.  Their misfortune seemingly served as a powerful and tangible proof to the early Christians that the Jews must be cursed.  They assumed that due to the Jew’s culpability in the crucifixion of their Messiah that they had finally fallen out of favor with God and that He was now exacting divine justice.  To the burgeoning Gentile communities within Christendom this seemed as some sort of license to carry out God’s judgment on the Jews for God.  This allowed for the errant teaching of Replacement Theology (RT) to flourish.  RT began circulating through teachers like Origen and Augustine and taught that the Jews were no longer God’s chosen people, but that the church had replaced Israel and that the Kingdom was now.

Interwoven between the geopolitical and the prophetic we see how Christ’s knowledge of things to come is outlined fairly clearly in the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches.  Twice Christ chastises those who ‘say they are Jews but lie’.  But these letters in their multi-faceted fashion, prove that they were as applicable to the 1st century believer as they are today.

Ephesus: 30-100 AD Apostolic church, chastised for having lost their first love.
Smyrna: 100-300 AD, persecuted church, told to hold fast and they will receive the crown of life
Pergamum: 300-600 AD, mixed marriage, instead of the Church going out into the world, the world comes into the Church
Thyatira: 600-Present, ‘perpetual sacrifice’ would come to represent the Roman Catholic system
Sardis: 1500-Present, the dead church of orthodox Protestantism
Philadelphia: 1700-Present, the remnant church who remained faithful to true Biblical doctrines
Laodicea: 1900-Present, the ‘luke-warm’ church of whom Christ remains on the outside asking to come in.

Whether these seven churches represent actual era’s or stages within greater Christianity still has many divided.  This author believes they do for the following reasons;

    They are placed by Christ in the book a prophecy (Rev. 1:3)
    They were to be read and understood by all the churches
    They are multi-faceted in content simply by the people Christ is addressing. 
    The fact that Revelation is largely sequential in its outline (Rev. 1:19), thus the order and arrangement of these letters are in keeping with this pattern

If this pattern is true, and the seven letters not only speak to those specific churches in 1st century Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) but also to churches of all ages, then we truly are in the last days.  Churches today have largely been relegated to the ‘irrelevant’ section of the goings on.  Thus, in an attempt to remain relevant in a world whose moral compass is spinning wildly out of control, a majority of churches are trying their best not to offend anyone.  Whether they are homosexual, Islamic, Atheistic, etc.   The Apostles Paul, Peter, and John all warn of this and stated that even in their own day;

…For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves…Acts 20:29-30

From the Apostle Peter’s vantage point, he warned of the apostate and heretics who would come;

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

From Christ’s half-brother, Jude, who later wrote that by his own day, the apostates and heretics were firmly planted;

For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)

And so, it has been since then, that men and women have crept into the congregations teaching doctrines of demons and adding to or subtracting from the Word of God.
But despite the warnings and the general downturn in the world’s condition that was already foretold of it is not up to man whether the Church will succeed or fail in the long run.  Christ didn’t say that men would build His church but that He would. (Matt. 16:18-19)  The Church was known by God before the foundation of the world was laid. (Eph. 1:4)  We were to be God’s greatest demonstration of grace and mercy beginning with the sacrifice of Himself. (Romans 5:8) Although the world is sinking deeper and deeper into darkness, we need not worry about the outcome of our trials and tribulations.  Furthermore, Peter writes…

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

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
A question many of us have heard asked at this time of year is “what are you thankful for’?  As believers, I am sure we all share the thankfulness of knowing our salvation is guaranteed by the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but we also have many other promises from Him to be thankful for as well.  I personally, am extremely thankful for the promise of deliverance from the evil which is to come upon this earth, the beginnings of which we can see all around us, by the rapture of the Church which will occur when Jesus returns in the air to take us home to be with Him forever.

As I watched along with you the violence of the past ten days or so, I was reminded again of the promise to deliver us, and wondered as most of us do, “how long O Lord? It was then that God reminded me of something I learned a few years ago while studying the Feasts of Israel. 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.

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, 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? 

As we watch the world seemingly descend into darkness, the conclusion that the rapture must be near is virtually inescapable.  How wonderful it would be for the Church to go home during this season of thankfulness and celebration of the birth of our Savior. 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 15, 2015

Fake and Bake

“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.   Revelation 3:14-16  NKJV

As a result of possessing skin from the “northern” gene pool, I have always had difficulty tanning, and in fact, as a result of too much exposure to the sun suffer from some skin issues which demand annual visits to my dermatologist for treatment.  Years ago, rather than listen to the laughter from my daughters because of my white legs during the summer months, I resorted to using a self-tanning lotion which they immediately dubbed “fake and bake”.  I confess it does have its limitations, but from a distance the results are better than the alternative.  As I thought this past week about the church at Laodicea, it occurred to me that the term my daughters coined could just as easily apply to people who give the outward appearance of true believers, but on the inside are desperately in need of a Savior.

Of the seven churches mentioned by Jesus in the beginning of His book of Revelation, I must confess that the church of Laodicea has been the most difficult for me to comprehend over the course of my study as a believer.  That is, until now.  You see (as I admit my age here) becoming a believer during the evangelical movement of the sixties and maturing during the Jesus movement of the seventies, I simply could not understand how a church could exist such as the Laodicean church described by Jesus.  Yet today we find the “emergence” of exactly what Jesus foretold so many years ago.

To make something lukewarm, you obviously mix together both hot and cold to arrive at a “compromise” temperature.  This is something I am an authority on since winter has finally arrived in the Northwest and my wife and I have begun our annual war over the thermostat.  The result is always the same as while both of us might not get what we want; neither of us is uncomfortable to the point of demanding a change.  As I thought about the state of the church today, and especially these words from Jesus concerning the Laodicean church, my thoughts continually returned to the words lukewarm and compromise.

“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—Revelation 3:17  NKJV

A fact that many are not aware of is that the meaning of the word Laodicea is “rule of the people”.  I would think that this is probably one of the first of many mistakes this church is making in that rather than looking to God for guidance on what He expects from them, they look to themselves for approval.  Did you notice Jesus’ response to this?  “Because you say”.  How sad is it that a church can exist which simply tells itself that it is rich and in need of nothing because they are all comfortable doing what they want.  The truth is, according to Jesus, they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”.

“I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.                       Revelation 3:18-19  NKJV

Although the church at Laodicea believed it was rich and in need of nothing, it was in reality poor because the “riches” they were so confident in were of their own efforts, and not from God.  Rich in the eyes of the world, they were poor in the eyes of God as a result of the absence of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in their church.  The error of the Laodicean theology is that your eternal security can be assured by simply being a “follower” of Christ.  Unfortunately, this is in direct opposition to the Word of God which states plainly that we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to receive eternal life.  The end result of this mistaken teaching is a church full of followers, but no believers.

 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.   Revelation 3:20-21  NKJV

I learned this verse as a child in Sunday School, and like many of you, have never forgotten it.  It has long been used as a tool in witnessing and sharing the good news with those who have not yet accepted the gift of eternal life, and presents a beautiful picture of the love that Jesus has for all of His children.  Yet it was quite a long time before I personally understood the context of this verse, and exactly how Jesus was using it to send a message to a church empty of true believers.  Although seemingly unaware of their need, Jesus stands at the door knocking to come in and anyone who hears and invites Him in will receive the free gift of salvation.

Have you opened the door of your heart and invited Jesus to come in?  If not, you can do that right now wherever you are.  Simply pray a prayer like this and begin a new life with Jesus, and know you will spend eternity with Him.

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.

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

We Can Overcome

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?    1 John 5:4-5   NKJV

If we consider the extent to which many believers are beginning to feel persecuted, and combine that with the turbulence we see politically, economically, socially, as well as the ever increasing geological and astronomical events, is it any wonder many believe the word “overcome” is especially appropriate?  As difficult as our circumstances may be, as frightening as events around us may seem, as tempting it might be to consider stepping back from our witness, is it not reassuring to know that not only are we encouraged to overcome, but can take heart knowing we have the promise of God that we can overcome this world because He already has.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”   John 16:33  NKJV

The Greek word for overcome is nikaƍ, which means literally to conquer, or to be victorious.  In other words, we as believers are encouraged by the knowledge that God has already conquered this world, and because He lives in us, we too have already achieved the victory.  As funny as it may sound, we are running a race which, by God’s grace, we have already won.  For believers, the outcome of the race before us is predetermined and this knowledge is the source of the strength we need to battle whatever this world may throw in our way as we approach the finish line.

I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one.       1 John 2:14  NKJV

All too often we as believers struggle with the feeling that we are failing in our attempts to live the life that God expects from us.  When life presents us with problems or struggles or persecution and we fail to react or perform in the manner we feel would be acceptable to God we often despair that we will ever get it right.  Those feelings come because we make the mistake of focusing on the problem facing us rather than the victory we already have by the grace given to us when we first believed.  You see, we have already won because our faith is in Jesus, and He has already overcome the world.

Our final victory is already assured by the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and all who have accepted that gift are overcomers.  The word overcome, used to describe those who have made this choice, is found throughout the New Testament but primarily in the letters to the seven churches found in the Book of Revelation.  In these seven letters we find seven spiritual sins the churches are guilty of, and the overcomers are those who stay true to the gospel.  It is here where Jesus reveals the rewards overcomers will receive when the race is finally over and we join our Father in Heaven. 

The letters to the seven churches spell out seven things that believers are encouraged to overcome, and if you read them they seem to be incredibly appropriate to the world we live in today, especially as we see the finish line approaching.

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” ’Revelation 2:4,7  NKJV

To the church in Ephesus believers are warned not to forget their first love, which was sharing the Gospel with an unbelieving world.  This church was caught up in doing works, which while good, is not the primary purpose for which the Church was created.

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ’  Revelation 2:10-11  NKJV

The believers from the church in Smyrna were to be tested and suffer for their faith, many to the point of death.  Although tempted to renounce their faith, they are told they have nothing to fear from death because overcomers who die in faith, receive eternal life.

“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’  Revelation 2:14-17  NKJV

The overcomers in Pergamum were believers who stayed true to the Gospel and were not taken in by doctrines which taught practices which were unbiblical, and obviously pagan.  The sword of his mouth Jesus speaks of is the Word of God, by which all teaching should be examined.

“Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. “But hold fast what you have till I come. “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations-   Revelation 2:24-26  NKJV

Overcomers in Thyatira were believers who were not taken in by teaching which tried to add traditions or non-biblical practices or works as parts of the Gospel.  Here believers are told to reject what some in the church might try to add as part of salvation, and live by faith alone.

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.   Revelation 3:1-5  NKJV

Satan’s plan for the Church has always been to weaken it by watering down the true Gospel.  Just as he did in the Garden of Eden, he attacks the authority of God’s Word and soon the church is teaching there are no absolutes. Overcomers in Sardis are those who watch for false teachings and strengthen the true Gospel.

“I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. “Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.   Revelation 3:8-12  NKJV

The best promise of all is given to those overcomers of the church at Philadelphia.  These are true believers who hold fast to the true Gospel of grace through faith by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.  Here those who have persevered are promised that they will be delivered from the tribulation period which will come to test the whole world.

“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.   Revelation 3:15,16 NKJV

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.   Revelation 3:20,21  NKJV

Finally we come to the apostate church.  Rather than believers, they call themselves “Christ followers”.  Rather than teaching the gospel of grace through faith, they teach good works and service.  Unfortunately for them, Jesus tells them quite plainly that He is outside knocking to get in.  Overcomers are those who hear His knock and invite Him in.

Seven letters to seven churches and the message is, for the most part, exactly the same.  Although it is important to live our lives as a witness for Christ, and that our behavior reflect the attributes taught by His Word, overcomers are those who guard the true Gospel of Christ in a world that desperately wants to see it go away.  Satan’s plan has always been to somehow introduce false doctrines and teachings which turn people away from the true gospel of grace through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, and that has never been more evident than what we see today in the seeker friendly, Christ follower, service oriented, emergent church.

So prevalent has this apostate church become that those who choose to be overcomers and stand by the true Gospel of Christ will most certainly, in one way or another, suffer persecution for their faith.  The reason we are called overcomers is that not only must we overcome the false teachings of the church, we must also overcome the abuse we will be subjected to because we choose not to conform.  We can overcome because Jesus already has.

“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.”


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