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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Receiving the Holy Spirit's Power

                        RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT'S POWER
We received the “Indwelling” Holy Spirit in our hearts when we believed in Jesus as our Savior.  He quietly guides us and helps us.  Teaches and comforts us.  He convicts us of sin and develops love, peace, joy, faith, patience and other fruits in our life if we let Him.  The “indwelling” ministry of the Holy Spirit is automatic when we accept Christ into our lives. We don’t have to ask the Holy Spirit to live inside of us.  
But that is not the case with the “empowering” of the Holy Spirit.  The “empowering” Holy Spirit is very different from the “indwelling” Holy Spirit. Usually a believer must want the empowering of the Holy Spirit.  And usually we must pray and ask God for more of this fullness of the Holy Spirit in our life.
Sometimes we must keep on praying and wait for this gift. One expression of our faith is our willingness to continue seeking until we have received.  (Luke 11:5-13) Perseverance is a sign of faith.  (Timothy 4:16 and Hebrews 12:1) Jesus promises that God the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask in faith.  (Luke 11:13)
A second way to receive the Holy Spirit’s power is by receiving it through another believer.  Another Christian who has already received the “empowering” of the Spirit can lay his or her hands on the one who is seeking and pass on this power.  When Paul had his dramatic conversion on the Damascus Road when the glorified Christ came and spoke to him, Paul believed in Jesus at that moment. But Paul did not receive the “empowering” of the Holy Spirit until a few days later when another Christian, Ananias, came and laid hands on him, praying for the Spirit to fill him.  The Bible teaches that the Spirit’s power can be imparted this way.  (Acts 8:14-17 and Acts 9:11-17)
The “empowering” of the Holy Spirit is a ministry where the Spirit of Christ “comes upon” you with power to equip you to accomplish the work of God.  The “empowering” of the Spirit can be called by several names.  Some call it the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”  Or being “filled with the Spirit.”  It seems that there are different levels of empowering.  Perhaps when you first receive the empowering of the Spirit you may not receive a great deal of power.  But if you use what you have and continually ask for more, you will receive more in answer to your prayers.  
Believers will see changes in their lives when they receive the empowering of the Holy Spirit.  Many people say that when they receive the “empowering” of the Spirit they have wanted to praise God and worship Him more.  There is a strong desire in their hearts to have a closer relationship with God.  Sometimes there was a release of tongues or prophecy.  And they would want to pass on His love and be a witness for Him.  Acts 1:8 reads: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you: and you will be My witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” 
There are many wonderful Christians who have given their lives to Christ but still know little about His charismatic power. The display of the Holy Spirit’s power makes many Christians uncomfortable.  Many Christians feel better when our worship services are orderly and the charismatic Christian may upset that order when he or she speaks in tongues. Years ago, instead of submitting to what God wanted for me, I made the mistake or committed the sin of telling God that I was afraid of any confusion the empowerment of the Spirit might cause.  I have since been sorry that I put up barriers to receiving all that God might have for me.
I believe that one thing we may need to do to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not to put up barriers. To submit to God and want anything He wants to give us.  Scripture says: “Offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life: and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness.  For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. “ (Romans 6:13b-14)
When the Christians in Thessalonica were skeptical of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote these words to them: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire: do not treat prophecies with contempt.  Test everything.  Hold onto the good.” (Thessalonians 5:19-21) 
What does a Christian do with this power from the Holy Spirit?  We are to preach the Word, help others, pray for the sick, feed the hungry, give to the poor and be God’s people in the world. 
Scripture tells us that in the beginning there was only one kingdom in the universe – the kingdom of God.  Everything that God made was very good.  God is all powerful and holy and loving and merciful.  Just and good.  He can do no evil.  His kingdom is always righteous and loving and always holy and good. 
But Scripture tells us that Satan rebelled against God’s kingdom of light and a started his own kingdom of darkness.  (Ezekiel 28:12-19 and Isaiah 14:12-15) Satan drew away a third of the angels in heaven and established a second kingdom of darkness and hate and murder and lies and evil to oppose God’s kingdom of goodness and light.
 The Bible tells us that this world is now controlled by Satan and his forces.  (Ephesians 2:2 and John 5:19) But at the second coming of Jesus, He will destroy Satan’s kingdom and fully establish His righteous rule on the earth.  And what rejoicing there will be on that great Day!
 But until then we on earth are to rescue people from Satan’s kingdom of darkness to God’s kingdom of light. And we are to resist everything that Satan’s kingdom brings- sin, hunger, sickness, suffering, poverty, and more. When He taught us the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us to pray and ask that “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:9-10) Helping to bring God’s light to a dark world is a big job for us to be given.  That is why God has promised us the empowering of the Holy Spirit. 
Our ministry can take many forms.  We have each been given special talents and we can use them to God’s glory. The Holy Spirit will be there with us as we go about our daily duties.  He will give us guidance that we wouldn’t have on our own.  And He will give us the power to bring blessings into the lives of others.  And bring people out of darkness into light.  We need the empowering of the Holy Spirit to be able to do all of the wonderful work that God has planned for us to do.   
Many of the truths spoken of in this blog were taken from Robert Heider’s book, “Experiencing the Spirit”

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Love One Another as I Have Loved You

Love One Another as I Have Love You
Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us and it isn’t always easy to obey this command.  Here is what He says to us: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 13:3)
When we think about love we think of it as just a feeling.  But love is a decision – a choice.  What choices or sacrifices do we have to make to obey His command to love others?  Christ is commanding us to love our neighbors and to love them as He loved us!  He gave His life for us and continues to love us always. And He is calling us to follow His example! 
We U. S. citizens have recently experienced another mass shooting!  The shooter killed fifty-nine people and injured over five hundred and fifty others at a Las Vegas concert. Just in the past few years our country has suffered many more of these mass shootings.  But this one in Las Vegas is the worst mass murder ever recorded in the history of our country!  
When the bullets were reigning down on the Las Vegas concert, many good people ran into the crowd to save the injured and dying.  Some giving up their lives to protect people they didn’t know. So many unselfish people risking their own lives on that terrible night! Weren’t they obeying Jesus’ command to love and care for one another? We are asking why this mass shooting happened?  Perhaps our questions should be more about what we can do to help make our country a safer place so this won’t happen again!
In trying to follow Jesus’ command to love others, we can cast our vote and use our influence to help make our country a safer, kinder and more loving place. We Christians are called to be “salt” and “light” to all those around us – to our neighbors. (Matthew 5:13) Salt seasons our food and gives flavor to the whole dish. And light chases away the darkness. So we, as “salt”, can be an influence for good and change the “flavor” in our country.  Instead of going along with wrong doing we can shine a “light” into the darkness. We can make a difference, set the tone, and spread Christ’s love to others.
 Most of the citizens of our country- the United States of America- feel strongly that “freedom” is all important. Freedom to do our own thing and in many states- Texas being one of them- we have freedom in Texas to carry our guns anywhere we want.  And freedom for mentally ill persons to purchase guns any time they want.
A loop hole in the gun laws today does not restrict anyone from buying a gun at a private gun show since many states do not require record checks for those buying guns at gun shows. Our society is not safe when the wrong people are carrying guns around.  But we continue to refuse to regulate these gun sales.  And the shootings and killings continue to get worse.  We need to temper our freedom with responsibility and we need to try to secure a reasonably safe place for all of us to live.  Isn’t that the loving thing to do?
Also, there is no safety net in our country for people who need prolonged medical care and have no money or insurance. We have a friend who lost his job and then broke his ankle. He couldn’t afford to pay to have his ankle bones set by a doctor. Now he forever walks with a limp because his ankle healed in a crooked position. Another friend lost his job and was forced to go without expensive long- term cancer treatments that could have saved his life. 
Another older friend has a serious thyroid problem, heart issues and diabetes.  Her monthly income doesn’t stretch far enough to cover both her prescription drugs and her groceries. So she chooses to buy food and she goes without her prescription drugs. If we Christians vote for candidates who care about these poor and desperate citizens then our vote may help to shine a light into some of the dark corners of our land. 
We live in a materialistic culture today where the gross national product is valued above everything else.  We will sell our souls for the bottom line. The productivity of the average worker has been pushed to the breaking point so that maximum profits can be earned.  Frantic workers are often stressed to the breaking point trying to reach their quotas.  Employees work harder and longer with less time off.  Cut throat tactics are regularly used in the workplace and loyalty is a thing of the past.  Jobs are sent overseas and faithful long- term workers are fired and replaced with cheaper labor in order to save a few bucks.  And some even dare to call these maneuvers Christian! 
Maybe in our rush to get ahead, we have done it all backwards!  We think we are better off financially but we may have paid a big price spiritually.  Are we taking Jesus’ command to “love our neighbor”seriously?  Or are we just playing games? Perhaps we can stop and ask God to lead us back to a kinder and more loving way of living.  Perhaps we can get serious about Jesus command to love others as He loves us!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Holy Spirit Wants to Live in You!

The Holy Spirit Wants to Live in You!
Jesus promised that all who believed in Him will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 1:4)  When Peter was preaching to thousands he also promised that all who believe in Jesus and repented of their sins would receive the Holy Spirit in their lives. (Acts 2:38)   Scripture says that if we are believers in Christ we have the Holy Spirit living in us.  Our bodies are the “temple” of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) And through the Holy Spirit we are “partakers of the divine nature.”  (2 Peter 1:4) But who is this Holy Spirit?
The Bible has a great deal to say about the Person of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and He is the Spirit of Christ.  The Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity, the Three in One.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14) The Holy Spirit shares with the Son and the Father the relationship within the Godhead.  We humans don’t understand this eternal mystery of the Trinity.  If we could understand everything about God, then He wouldn’t be God. 
The Holy Spirit does so many things in and for and through us. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit guides us. (John 16:13) and he empowers us. (Micah 3:8) He makes us holy. (Romans 15:16) And He bears witness in our lives. (Romans 15:16) The Holy Spirit comforts us. (John 14:16-26) And He gives us joy. (Romans 14:17) He illuminates our minds with insights into the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:12,13)   And He reveals hidden things from God to us. (Isaiah 40:13,14) And as our teacher, He leads us into all truth.  (John 16: 13) And also, through the Holy Spirit we are “sealed in Christ” and we are given an assurance that we belong to Him. (2 Corinthians 1:22)  Doesn’t that mean that God holds onto us and doesn’t let us go?
The Holy Spirit is God’s provision to help us live a Christian life.  He helps us mature and grow up in the Lord.  He changes us from the inside out and makes us “new creations” making us to conform more and more to the character of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17) The Holy Spirit equips us with the tools to be able to serve the Lord.  Jesus described the Holy Spirit as a spring of water in the believer’s heart, with rivers of living water flowing out of the believer.  (John 7:38)
The Holy Spirit did not live in all of God’s people on a continuing basis in Old Testament days. It was the age of Law before Christ came. Old Testament prophets prophesied that in the future God would do a “new thing” and put His Spirit inside of His people.  The prophet Ezekiel spoke God’s message: “I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.: (Ezekiel 36:27) The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a New Testament ministry. The Messiah, Jesus Christ must first come and die for our sins and rise from the dead.  His sacrifice and resurrection would usher in the new age of Grace, to fulfill the Law.
 When Jesus saw His disciples right after He had risen from the dead, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  (John 20:22)  At that moment Jesus imparted the “breath” of God, the Holy Spirit, into His followers. From this time on, the Holy Spirit has lived in His people.  We are living in the age of Grace and we have the Holy Spirit living in us - something that the saints in the Old Testament age never had!  So how do we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives?
We receive the Holy Spirit when we are sorry for our sins and we accept Jesus as our Savior.  Romans 8:9 says that if you don’t have the Holy Spirit living in you, you don’t know Christ.  When we receive Christ as our Savior we receive the Holy Spirit.  He is part of our salvation. 
 You may be asking, if Jesus breathed on the disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit before He went back to heaven, (John 20:22) then why did He ask His disciples to wait and pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit when He was leaving them and going back to heaven? (Acts 1:1-5)
Some Bible scholars have answered this question this way.  They say that all believers receive the indwelling Holy Spirit when they believe. But if a believer wants more of the Holy Spirit – to be empowered with special gifts for ministry (prophecy, healing, spiritual discernment, speaking in tongues, miracles, etc.) the believer may need to wait and pray and ask for more.  The Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit falling on believers with these gifts when they earnestly prayed for them.  Also, many seekers receive more of the Holy Spirit when others who already have the fullness of the Holy Spirit pray and lay hands on the person who is seeking more.
The “indwelling” work of the Holy Spirit (when He comes to live in us when we accept Christ) is different from the “empowering” work of the Holy Spirit.  The “indwelling”Holy Spirit works inside of us to lead, guide and teach us and convict us of sin.  Changing us and molding us as He goes quietly about His work.  Giving us joy and peace and faith and love and other fruits. 
But the “empowering” of the Holy Spirit is when the same Holy Spirit gives us gifts to empower us to do work for God.  We are empowered for ministry. Some of the gifts the empowering Holy Spirit gives are the gifts of prophecy, teaching, miracles, healing, speaking in tongues.  Many have had dramatic experiences when they received this Holy Spirit outpouring.  But some receive this fullness of the Spirit quietly. Most of us do not experience God’s power because we never ask for it.  We never even want it and are possibly afraid of it!  But I believe that we should want to receive all that God has for us. 
Jesus encourages us to ask for the “empowering” of the Holy Spirit and tells us that our heavenly Father will give Him to us if we ask Him. Here is what Jesus says: “Which of you parents, if your child asks for a fish to eat, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you, then being imperfect human parents know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:11-13)
Scripture tells us that just before Jesus ascended back up to heaven He told His disciples that it was better for them that He leave so that they could have the out pouring of the Holy Spirit in power.   Then Jesus told His followers to go to Jerusalem and wait for this promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  His followers obeyed and over 120 of Jesus’ followers all prayed and waited together for ten days for this promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit to come upon them.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the waiting group in power, the Bible tells us that: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were waiting and praying.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each one of them.  All of them were fill with the Holy Spirit and they all began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”  (Acts 2:2-4) That day when the Holy Spirit came upon the believers in power was the beginning or birth of the Christian Church.  We call that day “Pentecost”.  
That same Holy Spirit power is available for all of Christ’s followers today.  And many Christians today have asked and received this baptism of the Holy Spirit.  We will learn more about the Holy Spirit in next week’s blog. 
Some of the Scriptural truths here in this blog have been taken from Robert Heider’s book, “Experiencing the Spirit.” 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Praying for Others and Standing in the Gap

Praying for Others and Standing in the Gap
We live in difficult days and we need to pray for one another.  Our prayers are powerful and they are the most valuable gift we can give to others.  Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ constantly prays or intercedes for us and our needs.  And we are called to join Him in His ministry of intercession-which is the ministry of praying for others.
God’s usual way of working in the world to right a wrong or to stop suffering is often not to send an angel or perform a miracle. God usually works through people. Through you and me.  God calls us to be His hands and feet.  He calls us to pray and work and give and care.  It’s exciting to think that God can use us to change the world! It is such an honor.
The story in Ezekiel 22:29-31 teaches us that prayer for others is mighty. This passage tells of a land (Jerusalem in ancient times) that could have been spared if just one person had cared and prayed.  If one person had been there to go with God’s message.  But God searched and He could not find a single person willing to pray or stand in the gap.
Here is this sad story: “The people of the land have used oppression and extortion and have committed robbery: yes they have wronged and vexed the poor and needy: yes they have oppressed the stranger and temporary resident wrongfully.  And I (God) looked for a person among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it.  But I found no one to do that. Therefore, I have poured out My indignation upon this land: I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath: their own way have I repaid upon them, says the Lord God.”  (Ezekiel 22: 29-31)
This Ezekiel passage is saying that many people could have been saved by just one’s person’s prayers and care.  If just one person had gone to them with God’s message. Many other passages in the Bible speak of the importance of prayer.  James 5:16 says: “The effectual fervent prayers of a good person avails much.”  We can make a difference when we pray!
All of us are called repeatedly by God to participate in His work of encouraging and blessing and challenging and praying for others.  Often we are called to help in small ways.  Little words of kindness.  Short prayers for someone with a problem.  What an honor to be in the midst of something God is doing!
At every stage of life, God will have a mission for us to be a part of.  Our job is to pay attention to the still small voice of the Spirit nudging us along.  It’s easy to make excuses.  Say that we don’t have enough money, influence, power, knowledge, whatever to make any difference. But God promises to be with us.  To work through us, even when we are weak and have little to give.  The Lord told Paul: ” My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12;9)   God promises His grace and strength to all of us who do His work.
I have noticed that when we step out and take on a ministry or help when there is a need, that the Lord always makes a way and gives us joy in performing the task.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit alive in us. We still have problems and struggles but He is always there providing what we need and picking us up when we falter.
We help support three children overseas who live in poverty.  This week a letter came in the mail from the organization who provides for these children, asking if we would consider supporting a fourth child.  Our budget is tight and adding another expense each month might be considered foolish by some with our limitations.  But we wrote back with our answer, that yes, we would take on another child. 
When we prayed and asked the Lord, it seemed we felt the assurance in our hearts that even though we would have to give up something and make some sacrifices, that He would be with us supplying most of the provisions.  He would be the wind in our sails.  Take our little gift and multiply it and make it so much more.  Perhaps like the story in Scripture of the little boy who gave Jesus his small lunch of loaves and fishes. And in Jesus’ hands the child’s lunch was enough to feed the five thousand people who had followed Jesus outside the town to hear His message. As the disciples broke the loaves and fish and passed them out there was enough for everyone with baskets full of leftovers!  (Matthew 14:13-21)  
God has given us so many precious promises in His Word.  We have such riches to draw upon!  Such power He has given us – to be able to pray believing and receive.  Scripture says: “Ask and you shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7:7)    Jesus promises: “I will do whatever you ask in My Name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask Me anything and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14) 
As God’s children, who delight in God and His Word, and try to stay away from sin, we are described in Scripture as a tree planted by streams of water. (Psalm 1:3) We are given so much. God is with us.  Like the stream nourishes the tree, His Word nourishes us.  His Spirit flows like a stream through our lives.  And then Scripture says that the tree (that’s us) bears fruit in season.  We are a fruitful tree, not a barren one!  Our leaves do not wither.  And whatever we do prospers!  (Psalm 1:1-3)
 What a beautiful picture of our place as a child of God.  All of our work will prosper in His Hands even though we may not see or understand it now!  Our life on earth is to be prosperous, (that doesn’t necessarily mean we are rich with lots of money but it means that our work for the Lord will prosper).  When we pray for others, help and give to a need, stand in the gap, God will make our work prosper.  Everything we do in Him will not be wasted!
Sometimes we get discouraged and feel that all is hopeless. We forget to stay close to the God we love.  But when we come back to God and His Word we are always encouraged.  We always have hope in Him. God gives us a beautiful picture of who we really are in Him and of how valuable and abundant our work in Him really is.  We need to keep that picture before our eyes!
Here is how Scripture so beautifully describes us:  “The person who delights in the Lord and His Word is like a tree, planted by streams of water.  This tree yields his fruit in season, And his leaf does not wither.  And whatever he does will prosper.”  (Psalm 1:3)   It doesn’t get any better than that! 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Passover

The Passover
The date was approximately 1,480 B.C. and the place was Egypt.  For several hundred years now, all of the Jewish people had become the slaves of the Egyptians.  They had been forced into cruel slavery since Pharaoh needed cheap laborers to build his empire. Sadistic Egyptian work bosses carried whips and heavy sticks, whipping, yelling and beating their Jewish slaves as they struggled to perform back breaking labor in the hot Egyptian sun. Prayers, moans and cries for mercy came up before God from the oppressed Jewish slaves! 
To make matters worse, Pharaoh was worried that the Jewish people were having too many babies.  Someday the Jewish people might out-number the Egyptians and try to break free from their hard labor! Pharaoh reasoned that if he killed all the Jewish baby boys then the Jewish people wouldn’t someday outnumber the Egyptians.
Pharaoh ordered that all new born Jewish male babies born throughout Egypt be thrown into the Nile River to drown. This decree was the law of the land.  Jewish mothers and fathers could only watch helplessly in horror as their new-born baby boys were drowned in the Nile River!  Prayers, screams and cries for help came up before God from terrified and broken hearted Jewish parents of new-born baby boys!  (Exodus 1:1-22)
God heard the cries of the Jewish people and He appeared to Moses in a flame of fire in the middle of a burning bush.  At that time Moses was a shepherd in the land of Midian and when he walked over to check out the bush, God spoke to him out of the flames.  First God told Moses to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground.
 God told Moses that He had heard the cries of the Jewish people and then God called Moses to go free his people from Pharaoh.   God was sending Moses to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. (Exodus 3;6-8) When Moses argued with God that he wouldn’t be able to persuade Pharaoh to let the Jewish slaves go, God promised Moses that He would be with him.
The Pharaoh of Egypt just laughed at Moses the first time he came before his throne!  Of course, Pharaoh would not let the Jewish people leave Egypt! What would Pharaoh do without his Jewish slave laborers?  But then God began sending plagues to Egypt.  Surely the Pharaoh would change his mind when he understood that God was sending the plagues because he was not letting the Jewish people go!  
First God caused the water in the Nile River to turn to blood.  Then God sent frogs, millions of them, in people’s houses, hopping on their dinner tables, jumping in their beds, everywhere.  Then there was an outbreak of lice and then flies.  Then cattle all across Egypt got sick and then Egyptians everywhere caught an infection of boils making many people miserable.  Next came fire and hail from heaven and then locusts were everywhere eating all of the crops.  And then darkness fell across Egypt and the sun didn’t shine.  During each of these plagues Pharaoh would promise to let the Jewish people go and then he would change his mind when the plague was gone. 
Finally, God told Moses that the last plague would cause Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go! God’s judgment would be poured out upon Egypt, and God would finally deliver Israel from slavery and death.  God would make a covenant or promise to the Jewish people that He would lead them to the Promised Land.  Moses told the Israelites to prepare for this final plague by slaughtering an unblemished lamb and roasting and eating it as a family. Many of the Jewish people were shepherds and had flocks of sheep. Each family was to take the lamb’s blood and brush the blood on the doorposts of their homes.    (Exodus 12:29-31)  
That night, God would send an angel of death throughout Egypt and if blood from the lamb was not brushed over the doorposts of the house, then death would enter that house and take the firstborn boy.  Also, death came upon the firstborn of every flock of sheep.  But when the angel of death would come to a home where the blood of the lamb had been brushed on its doorposts, then death would pass over this home. 
Every Jewish home and first- born child was saved because they obeyed God and applied the blood of the lamb on their home’s doorpost.  But every Egyptian home, including Pharaoh’s was visited by the death angel and there was great mourning throughout the land.  Pharaoh called Moses and told him to tell all of the several million Jewish people to go.  The nation of Israel was finally free and on their way with God guiding them to their Promised Lane!
Down through the thousands of years now the Jewish people have celebrated that night when God freed them from slavery and death.  That night when the angel of death saw the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts and passed over every Jewish home.  Every single Jew obeyed God’s instructions through Moses and so every Jewish home had the blood of the lamb sprinkled on their doorposts on that terrible night.  Because the blood of the Lamb covered each Jewish home, death passed over each home that night.  And down through the ages the Jewish people have celebrated this night when death passed over them. And God saved them from slavery. Once a year they stop and celebrate their Passover Seder. 
The early Christian church saw the slaughter of the lambs used at Passover as giving us a picture of the death of Jesus.  Scripture says: “Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast.”  (1 Corinthians 5:7-8a) Scripture says that the blood of animals cannot actually take away sin.  Only Christ, the Lamb of God, can do that.
 Many Bible scholars believe that the shed blood of unblemished lambs that were sacrificed in ancient Israel pointed to the future unblemished Lamb of God, their Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Jesus was described as, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  (John 1:29)  The lambs sacrificed in ancient times had to be unblemished, perfect and healthy. That is another picture pointing to Christ, the Son of God who is sinless and perfect.
Jesus’ last supper with His disciples was on the night before His crucifixion during the annual Passover celebration.  It was not by accident that Jesus’ death occurred at the same time that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered. Jesus gave His disciples and all of us who love and follow Him a new feast to celebrate and remember His sacrifice for us.  With the breaking of bread Jesus told his disciples, “This is My body given for you, do this in remembrance of Me.”  And with the drinking of wine He said: This cup is the new covenant (promise) in My blood, which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:19-20)
Scripture also says: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22) The Bible teaches that death is caused by the sin of the world. Scripture says: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23) He died that we might live. Jesus washes us from our sins, covers us in His righteousness, and gives us eternal life. 
For the nation of Israel, God’s saving act on their behalf happened on the night when death passed over them in Egypt and God liberated them from slavery and set them free.  And for Christians, God’s saving act was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God to take away our sins. Death (physical death) passed over every Jewish house that had the blood of the lamb sprinkled over the doorposts.  And death (eternal death) will pass over every person who has the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, sprinkled over the doorposts of their heart. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Haggai and Zechariah Prophesy About Christ's Second Coming

  Haggai and Zechariah Prophesy About Christ’s Second Coming
Down through the many centuries before Christ, the Jewish people had the experience of hearing God’s laws and messages and receiving His guidance through their many prophets. A prophet would be a Jewish person who was dedicated to God.  Most of the Old Testament prophets were men.  And God called each of these men to be God’s messenger and speak God’s Word to the people.  God would often raise up a prophet for Israel at a time when the nation specially needed God’s guidance.
 The power of the Holy Spirit would come over God’s chosen prophet and give him or her the words to say. Often prophets would see visions of what God would be doing in the future and their job was to pass God’s Word on to the people. God gave visions to many of the prophets.  Visions of lessons God wanted to teach them.  Visions of what would be happening far into the future and visions of the last days and the end of the age when Jesus will come again in glory.
Over several thousand years God would raise up seventeen or more Old Testament prophets.  The ancient Israelites were used to God sending these prophets when they needed special guidance, or when they had sinned. The Israelites expected God to save them from their enemies, since He promised them He would if they obeyed Him.  And the Israelites knew that God would punish them when they worshipped idols or broke His laws and did not repent.
 The prophecies from God given to Israel through their prophets were written down and carefully saved and are part of the Old Testament of our Bibles.  Sometimes the prophets were persecuted and hated by the Israelites.  Often this happened when the unpopular prophet was telling the people that God wanted them to turn from their sins.
The date was approximately 520 B.C. when two of the minor prophets, Haggai and Zechariah came on the scene. It had been nearly a century since God had sent Israel a prophet. The Jewish people had been released from their captivity in Babylon and had come back to their land.  They were busy rebuilding a wall around their city and rebuilding their houses that had been destroyed when they had been taken into captivity some seventy years earlier. 
The Jewish people wanted to build a new temple where they could worship and bring sacrifices to God.  Their old temple had been glorious.  Built by Solomon, it had massive pillars and gold, silver and jewels embedded into the walls. But the enemy had torn their temple down long ago and now the Jewish people worked together and laid the foundation for a new temple.  At first, they were excited about building the new temple.  But then the Samaritans and other neighbors vigorously opposed the project and threatened the Jewish people with harm if they continued their work on their temple. 
Older Jewish people who were alive before the first temple had been destroyed came around and fussed and cried.  These folks were disappointed because the new temple would be much smaller and less glorious than the first temple had been.  They wanted their old temple back. The Israelites didn’t have the money to decorate their new temple with gold and silver and jewels.  Soon the Jewish people became discouraged because of the criticism from their fellow neighbors and fearful of trouble from the Samaritans. Soon the Israelites stopped working on God’s house. The threats from the Samaritans and the disappointment over not being able to build another temple as grand as the first one had stopped them in their tracks.  Do things like that ever stop us in our tracks today?
This is the time that God sent Israel two prophets with words and visions of warnings and encouragements.  Haggai, along with the prophet Zechariah encouraged the Israelites to get back to work on God’s temple.  Both prophets told the discouraged people that God promised to be with them in their work. That His Spirit would give them strength.  That even the little things they did were important.  That God was jealous that they had put other things before Him and the building of His house.
God spoke through Haggai to the Jewish people.  God’s message was this: If the Israelites would build the temple and give God first place in their lives then God would send His blessings.  Obedience brings the strength of the Spirit.  This is a lesson for us today, as well as for these Israelites who lived over two thousand years ago. 
 God spoke again. Disobedience and rebellion would bring curses.  Zechariah brought the people a vision from God showing that their rebellion against God brings a curse.  In his vision, Zechariah saw a flying scroll. (Zechariah 5:1-4) On one side of the scroll it said: “Every thief will be banished” and on the other side of the scroll it said, “Everyone who swears falsely will be banished”. The scroll was flying across the land coming into their houses with the curse.  It sounds like these ancient people had given in to the sins of stealing from one another and of swearing falsely.  God was calling His people to repent of their sins back then, just as He calls us to repent of our sins today. 
The Lord also spoke to the people about their new smaller temple. God told them not to be disappointed with their new temple. God promised that the glory of their new temple would be greater than the glory of that first larger glorious temple. (Haggai 2:9) Haggai even prophesied that God would shake the nations and that “the desire of all nations” (Jesus Christ) would come, and will fill this house (the temple they were building) with glory, says the Lord Almighty.”  (Haggai 2: 7) The Israelites were encouraged by God’s Word and got back to work.
The temple these Israelites built was partially destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D. when the Jewish people were dispersed.  The outer walls of the ancient temple (approximately 2,525 years old) built by those discouraged Israelites and encouraged on by Haggai and Zechariah, still remain today in Jerusalem.  One of the famous walls, the “Wailing Wall”, is visited every day by hundreds of visitors and worshippers. Someday those walls may be renovated with a roof and floor and when Christ comes again in all of His glory He will enter the temple and fill it with His glory, just as the prophet Haggai prophesied that He would!
God’s promises spoken through the prophets to the people of Israel were not just promises for them during their lifetime but God’s promises extend far into the future – all the way to the last days and to the Second Coming of Christ, when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! (Revelations 21 and 22) The faith of those ancient Jewish people was strengthened by the prophet’s visions of God being with them. 
 But I believe their faith was also strengthened when God gave them a vision of the end times when God’s original purpose for Israel will be realized.  And all evil will be overcome forever through Christ Jesus our Lord.  When we become discouraged with our life and work like those Jews back then, our faith can be strengthened today when we read God’s prophetic promises!  Promises that when we pass from death into eternal life, we will be dressed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and we will be victors in Christ and reign with Him forever!
There is significance in the prophet Zechariah’s name, because the name “Zechariah” means “The Lord Remembers”.  God remembers His covenant promises and takes action to fulfill them.  In the book of Zechariah, God’s promised deliverance from Babylonian exile and a restored Jewish community and a functioning temple. But Zechariah’s and Haggai’s prophecies lead into even grander pictures of the salvation and restoration to come through the Messiah and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Finally, the books of Haggai and Zechariah as a whole, teach the sovereignty of God in history, over people and nations, past, present and future!  




Saturday, September 2, 2017

Do You Enjoy Life?

Do You Enjoy Life?
Jesus promises believers that He will give us joy and peace.  Joy and peace are found in believing.  Jesus said: “I have spoken these things to you that My joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full.”  (John 15:11) God wants His children to enjoy life. Life is meant to be a celebration!  Have fun, be thankful and sing praises!  The Bible says: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we are promised is the gift of joy! But we must decide to open up our gift and enter in to our joy!  Hold on to it and never let it go!  Our joy can be stolen away from us, you know.  We need to watch for all the thieves of joy!  Every gift that Jesus provides, Satan tries to steal. Be on guard.  Scripture tells us that “the thief (Satan) comes to kill, steal and destroy, but Jesus comes that we might have and enjoy life.” (John 10:10) There is a spiritual battle going on here on earth.
Regret is one of the things that steals our joy.  We have regrets about choices we made in the past and we dread what may happen to us in the future.  God promises to forgive our sins and mistakes from the past and He asks us to receive His forgiveness and move on.  To receive is to believe. Christ took away our sins, so receive and believe it. Faith in God through Christ is the same as believing. God calls us to a faith walk. Have faith that God forgives you just as the Bible tells us that He does.  Great joy is found in believing.
Dread and fear of the future can also steal our joy.  There are so many things to fear.  Death, sickness, accidents, money troubles, rejection, war, the list goes on and on.  How do we enjoy life when there are so many things to worry about?  God, our heavenly Father answers this. 
God promises us that He will go before us and that He will always be with us and take care of us and help us.  Scripture says: “Fear not, for I am with you, be not afraid, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness.”  (Isaiah 41:10)   God’s Word also promises that Jesus is our Pioneer. He goes out ahead of us and makes a way for us.  (Hebrews 2:10) Believing God’s promises brings you into His rest. Hold on to these glorious promises and never let them go!
Joy is never released if you don’t believe but it is always released when you do believe. Scripture says: “But without faith it is impossible to please God.  For whoever would come near to God must believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him.”  (Hebrews 11:6)   And Jesus calls to us with these words: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) 
When we believe in Christ, along with the gift of salvation, we are given many more gifts!  One of our gifts is joy.  Scripture says: “But the gifts (fruits) of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23) Believe and receive! 
Jesus said: “This is the work (service) that God asks of you, that you believe…” (John 6:29) Our work, our job, our mission in life and our service to God is to believe!  It’s that simple! As the words of the old famous hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ goes: “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling!” 
Being given salvation along with all of these amazing gifts (love, joy, peace, etc.) sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? That is probably why many people never believe.  We humans try to complicate our lives.  We think we are too intellectual to believe something that glorious and simple. We think we need to “earn” our salvation, work for it, get special indulgences, be better than others. But our job is to believe.  Believe in Christ as Savior and Lord.  It’s that simple!
But God’s plan for us is called the “gospel” or the “good news” His plan is so good and so simple that we can easily miss it!  Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not accept and receive the kingdom of God as a little child does shall not enter it. “(Luke 18:17) A little child simply trusts her parent to take care of her.  A little child simply believes what his parents tell him.  Jesus says that we are to be like a little child.  Put our lives in His hand and trust Him.  It’s that simple!
After we believe and accept Christ, we can still be hit with doubts.  Once we hear the Word and believe it, do we continue to believe without wavering?  We need to make a simple decision to believe and keep on believing. God is holding onto us (Jude 24), but we must be willing to let Him hold on.. The Bible says that every person is given a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3) Faith is also a gift.  But we need to use it.
Scripture tells us that we need to pray to God believing that He hears us and will answer.  But James 1:6-8 says that a double-minded person is unstable in all of his ways and he should not think that he will receive what he asks for when he prays to God. What does this passage of Scripture mean?  The Bible tells us that our prayers are powerful and that God answers them.  But this passage says that we must not ask God and expect answers if we are of two minds. 
Perhaps this “two minds” problem means that if the Christian faith we have in our heart and the secular beliefs we have in our head are opposite, then we will not see what we half way believe come to pass.  We believe in our heart that God will answer our prayer but our mind has negative, doubtful and unbelieving thoughts which go against the beliefs we hold our heart. If our mind and our heart are not in agreement then this passage seems to say that we cannot count on having our prayer answered.  It would seem that God wants our heads (our reasoning and our intellect) to believe His promises too and not just give them lip service.  We can have peace and joy when we can believe in our rational mind as well as in our heart that God will answer our prayers.  Believe that our deepest trouble is in God’s hands and He will take care of it in due time.
How can we Christians rejoice and believe that God will take care of our deepest troubles when really “bad” things happen to “good” people. My husband and I went to the movies this week to see “All Saints”. This movie is a true story about how God answered the prayers of a Christian pastor and his church.  This Episcopal church in Tennessee had once been a large loving thriving church, but now there were only a few members left. They loved their church and prayed and asked God to help them pay the bills and keep their church doors open.  But the little church was going bankrupt and the bishop and elders of the church had decided to sell the property and close the church doors.
Nearby there were a group of Burmese Christian refugees who needed help in finding jobs and learning the English language and integrating into the U.S. society.  One night when the church’s pastor was walking in the fields around the church praying, he felt that God spoke to him and told him to take the Burmese refugees in and house and feed them.  The Burmese refugees could help the church congregation farm the acres of land around the church.   Perhaps they could pay off their bankruptcy and keep the doors of their beloved church open. 
You will need to see the movie “All Saints” to get the exciting details. Let’s just say that the church people agreed to take in the Burmese refugees and they all started a farm on the land around the church.  But, If God actually did tell the pastor to start a farm with the Burmese Christian refugees, wouldn’t God see them through and give them rain so that their crops would grow?    
The movie ends with the bishop and elders voting to sell the church. Everyone is heartbroken! The pastor’s son asks the pastor if he knows for sure that God told him to farm the land with the refugees.  And the pastor answered that he didn’t know for sure.  Then the son asked his father/pastor why God didn’t send the rain like they thought He would.  And again, the pastor answered that he didn’t know the answer to that either.
So many times, throughout life we may find ourselves in the same situation as the pastor.  We don’t know for sure if God told us to do something.  And other times in life we believe that God should answer our prayers a certain way, and He doesn’t.  Our answers to those questions would be the same as the pastors – we don’t know!  In this life, we walk by faith and not by sight. Just as the little church in Tennessee was closing its doors for the last time, God came through in a most surprising way.  The church was saved, its’ doors are still open and now the church is packed with hundreds of new members.  If you walk the “faith walk” with God He will most likely have surprises for you too. 
Some of the ideas for this blog were taken from Joyce Meyer’s book: “Enjoy Where You Are on the Way to Where You Are Going.”