Friday, November 11, 2011

Considerations for Entering Kingdom Living

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.  (Matthew 13:44-46)

       A few weeks ago I began to get really serious about making some changes in my life, mainly with my work situation.  Since last December, I have been working nights in intensive care.  (I am a registered nurse.)  I've never been, and probably will never be a nocturnal creature, so working the night shift has been a tremendous struggle, one that has left me emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally drained.  Moreover, I've been a critical care nurse for more years than I want to count.  Recently, after a season of introspection I realized that I no longer enjoyed this type of nursing and hadn't for a long time.  It was time to make a drastic change!

       It is so incredibly easy to get stuck in a rut and never leave it.  Frighteningly, many people spend their entire lives doing the same thing over and over again ad nauseam hardly questioning why they do what they do.  After a number of years, they begin to function robotically by just going through the motions of life with little to no thought.  Undoubtedly, there are a number of reasons for this but regardless, the end result is almost always the same. 

       When we go through life with minimal forethought and purpose, we lose a sense of who we are, as well as any dreams we may have had for our lives.  Most tragically however, the Lord's destiny for us is never acknowledged much less released.  Thus, at the end of life we have little satisfaction to show for all the years of toil and labor.  Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes surely must have felt that disheartenment deep within his soul when he rhetorically asked, "What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?"  (Ecclesiastes 1:3)  And again he wrote in the same book, "What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?"  (2:22)  Indeed, these are valid questions that most of us ought to contemplate soberly in this "rat-race" age in which we live.

       Jesus spells out a different way of life for whosoever will heed the call of God's Holy Spirit, with spiritual ears to hear.  Now please, don't misunderstand.  His purposed life is by no means free of difficulties and heartaches.  Nor does living it mean that life is purely peaches and cream 24/7, 365 days a year.  However, it is a life of great satisfaction, peace and purpose to any and all who will accept it. 

       Perhaps surprising to many, there is a price tag attached to God's Kingdom and its way of life.  It is not free but must be purchased at great price.  You see, Jesus had to die on the cross and shed His precious blood to give us the right to enter into Kingdom living, but we too must take up our cross in order to enter in.  (Always remember the words Jesus spoke to the disciples, ".... a servant is not great than master...."  [John 15:20]  In other words, what He experienced while on earth, so will we.)  Lamentably, for many believers, taking up the cross to follow Christ in all His glory is too much to ask.  Sadly, many Christians will not attain this measure of promised, abundant life offered to them.

       I'd like to take the opportunity to exposit on a very fundamental level five considerations of the value of God's Kingdom and of entering into that Kingdom living, to which allude the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl.  I personally believe that these two parables, told by the Master, partially divulge the untold worth of the Kingdom of God, as well as the secret for entering into the Kingdom.  Think about it!  What would provoke any mortal man to trade every possession he had in this life, and do it joyfully at that, to purchase something else that cannot be quantified nor qualified by human standards?  After all, we humans greatly cherish our earthly possessions and social status, clinging to them with dear life!  And furthermore, for any soul who would dare to esteem the finest pearls (riches) of this life to be nothing in comparison to some seemingly elusive kingdom that Jesus describes as one of great value?  Saints of God, on what are we missing out?!?

       It is well beyond the scope of this particular blog to dive deeply into the Kingdom of God by defining it in great detail.  (NOTE:  The Kingdom of God is completely interchangeable with the Kingdom of Heaven.)  I do wish however to stimulate your thinking in such a way that perhaps you would at least begin to desire to seek the Kingdom of God.  I readily admit that ultimately, it is a divine work of God the Holy Spirit Who must show you, as well as me, the inherent value of the Kingdom, else we are destined for a substandard life here on planet earth.  That is not the will of God for any of His children, for anything less than the very best for us nullifies the work of Christ's cross concerning our lives, on this side of eternity.  Should Christ tarry and we live to a ripe age, we would then risk hearing the eternal, echoing words of King Solomon posed in Ecclesiastes as they resonate loudly in our souls, "What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?"  (Ecclesiastes 1:3)  Lest we fall into that trap, let us heed some considerations.

       Consideration #1:  The Kingdom of God is hidden from the world.  This really is no mystery.  Everything God has for His creation is "masked" to the world, and has been since the fall of man.  This is not God's fault, but rather man's.  Because of humanity's sin nature, his thoughts are primarily toward himself and the creation, not Godward.  The Lord has consistently revealed Himself to creation since the fall, but to no avail other than at judgment we cannot accuse the Lord of hiding Himself.  The Apostle Paul speaks of this when he says, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”  (Romans 1:19-20)  In a nutshell, mankind will not seek God’s Kingdom when they won’t even look for Him, preferring rather to be their own gods running their own finite kingdoms.  Why would anyone seek the Kingdom or the Government of God and His Christ when they don't even acknowledge its King?

       The spirit of the world is antithetical to God and His nature hence it’s not possible for the world and its systems of thought to discern anything that isn’t borne of worldly wisdom and intellect.  “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”  (I Corinthians 2:14)  Comprehending even the existence of the Kingdom of God clearly requires the work of God’s Spirit in an individual.  Yet paradoxically, no one has the Spirit of Christ unless he or she has accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.  (Romans 8:9)  Therefore, until an individual acknowledges Christ as Lord and Savior, his sin nature precludes any real knowledge and understanding of God, much more the Kingdom, because God remains hidden from him.

       Consideration #2:  The Kingdom of God is hidden from the believer.  This may seem contradictory or even nonsensical initially.  However, as we seek to know the Lord more intimately, we realize that indeed He does hide Himself and His treasures so that the believer will seek them out.  Perhaps this may seem to be an argument from a human standpoint, but if the Lord gave us all of Himself and all His hidden treasures initially from the point of our salvation, for us there would be nothing for which to strive.  Mercifully however, the Lord tantalizes our spiritual taste buds with glimpses of truth and glory, which in turn cause us to want more and more of Him and that which He freely offers to those who seek Him with all their heart, soul and mind.  The promise of revealing Himself and His treasures is clear to all who will heed the invitation.  “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”  (Isaiah 45:3)  And in the words of Jesus, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom."  (Luke 12:32)

       Consideration #3:  Those who purposefully and intentionally seek the Kingdom of God reveal the nature of who they are.  Ponder the following scripture:  “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”  (Proverbs 25:2)  We see from this verse that as far as the second principle is concerned, God actually delights in concealing deep secrets.  On the other hand, only those who consider themselves “kingly” will seek out those hidden treasures that belong to the Lord.  This is a very important point because it speaks to the nature of how any Christian must perceive himself (herself implied) if he is to enjoy a successful, abundant life that is his in Christ.  (John 10:10)  Simply stated through the negative, if an individual does not understand the life he has in Christ, he will not seek the hidden treasures of God in Christ because he, the believer, doesn’t believe he is worthy.  This gross error in thinking will cause the individual to distance himself from the Lord thus making it impossible to seek God's finest.  If the believer in question actually knew that in Christ he is worthy of all things, he could perhaps move forward in his faith.  Consequently, it must be readily apparent why God's will is discovered only in the act of renewing the mind with God's Word!  "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."  (Romans 12:2)

       “Kingly” believers know without a shadow of a doubt who they are in Christ hence, will seek the treasures of God, and even will unabashedly seek the face of God.  Nothing will hinder these people because they understand fully that their life is completely rendered anew through the atoning sacrifice of Christ and His finished work at the cross.  They completely comprehend that Christian life and Kingdom living is about “being” in the Spirit, not about what they must do.  (Please refer to Romans 14:17)  “Kingly” believers freely accept the truth of who they are in Christ, and nothing less.  "The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."  (Romans 8:15-17)  If we know that we know that we are God's sons and daughters, how can we live any less than for how we were intended?

       Consideration #4:  As believers in Christ, once we discover the reality of His Kingdom, we must choose to pay the price to enter into Kingdom living.  Why?  Because again, Kingdom living isn’t free, as I stated earlier in the blog.  There’s a tremendous cost that must be paid by every believer.  This is where it gets quite sticky for many Christians.  Honestly, the majority of followers of Christ would surely want all that God has for them, until they come to the realization that the blessings come with a price attached to them.  The Kingdom is no less.  Jesus clearly speaks of a tradeoff that must be made in order to purchase the Kingdom.  In the parables of the Great Treasure and the Pearl, the first man gave up his possessions; the second, who was a merchant of great, earthly treasures, did the same.  Moreover, it stands to reason that the latter freely yielded any rights to further seek goodly, earthen pearls as well.  Beloved, it has to be this way!  There’s no other way it can be!  Having been created in the image of God, we humans were made with singleness of heart.  God Almighty is most assuredly of one mind, and His creation can be no less. 

       The double mindedness of the world is astounding!  Humanity is at a place in time where we want everything, we want to be everything and let's do it all NOW.  It’s as if we think we deserve any and everything the world can possible offer, but without any penalty.  But I declare to you that this is NOT God’s way.  We were not designed to be and do everything that our finite minds conjure up in the evil imagination.  Again, we are not greater than Christ.  Even He surrendered His human will to that of the Father when He finally declared in the Garden of Gethsemane that He could accept God’s will and not His own.  “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”  (Matthew 26:42)  Successful Kingdom living is absolutely contingent on the believer, consciously of his own volition, forfeiting his will by accepting that of the Father.  Jesus did it; so must we.  Consequently, the price we pay is the totally complete surrender of our will.  It may sound easy, but it’s the most significant expenditure we’ll ever face in this life, make no mistake about it. 

       Consideration #5:  Double minded people will not seek the Kingdom much less pay for it.  This must by now be obvious to the reader.  Please indulge me however, as I look at this phenomena from a different angle.  I made a statement earlier that God is single minded and made His creation the same.  That being said, the creation was never designed to know the difference between good and evil.  (Please refer to Genesis 3:22.)  That knowledge, reserved only for an omnipotent, all-knowing God, would destroy the single mindedness of mankind.  For in possessing that knowledge, the creation was and still is automatically forced to make a choice between God and obedience to Him verses an existence separated from Him. (We’re meant to be single minded, remember?)  Sadly, God’s own creation will always choose to eat the forbidden fruit, as did mother Eve.  It’s the nature of human existence since the fall of creation.

       The option that God gives all humans with regards to salvation is the opportunity to accept Christ.  In turn, Jesus reversed the curse of eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  (“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.’”  [Galatians 3:13])  But the door of choice for all of us was opened in the Garden and cannot be closed.  We must hence choose Christ and return to God or else decide that we will partake a second time of the forbidden fruit.  In essence, when anyone rejects Christ as Lord and Savior, he is choosing to partake a second, third, fourth, fifth, etc. in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Fundamentally, Christians who wish to “live in the world” and enjoy the benefits of Kingdom living are in basically standing before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil pondering its luscious, enticing fruit.  Their problem, uniquely different from those who reject Christ however, is that they don’t want to make a choice, or else they would prefer to choose both God and the world.  (I suspect the latter is more true for the "uncommitted" believer, while the former applies more to the unbeliever.)  These Christians do not understand mutual exclusivity and how it relates to Christian living in the world.   

       Fortunately, the Lord does not give up on those believers who choose to live double mindedly.  God’s Word beckons to the believing heart for anyone who would attempt to choose God and the world.  “…..and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  (James 4:8)  It is the Lord’s will that all believers consecrate themselves wholly to Him, His purposes, and His Kingdom.  In so doing, the believer can begin to receive the infinite blessings and secrets of living in God’s Kingdom. 

       Choosing to remain a double minded believer is dangerous and thus precludes the individual from receiving anything from God!  “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”  (James 1:6-8)  The Lord views any believer that is double-minded as unstable and incapable of receiving His finest.  They’re unfit for Kingdom living and will never enter in.  These believers literally squelch any hope of being blessed by God. 

       In conclusion, God has a Kingdom of abundant living in Christ by the indwelling Spirit that He wishes to give all people.  To access the Kingdom, the believer must accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior first before anything else.  The believer must see himself as "Kingly," a child of the Most High God and a co-heir with Christ the Son.  This self perception lends itself to searching for all the Heavenly Father has for His children.  Those people who wish to straddle the fence by attempting to live in the natural world and yet simultaneously reach for the supernatural of God's Kingdom must recognize that the Bible labels them as double-minded.  In this state of being, they will not receive God's blessings because they're literally being tossed to and fro by the world that literally enslaves them.  Hence, they're commanded to repent, to purify their hearts and seek all the hidden treasures and blessings the Lord has for all of us.  

       Dear Father in Heaven, I pray that the Holy Spirit will capture the heart of the reader of this blog.  If the individual is not a believer, I pray that God's Spirit will reveal to him or her the saving power of Jesus Christ by the engrafting of the Word that is more than capable of saving the soul.  If the reader has already given his or her heart to Jesus, may the Spirit arouse in the heart a yearning, a hunger and thirst for the deeper, more profound things that You, Oh Father, have for them.  May that longing in and of itself be so strong that they're compelled to begin a life-long search for the very heart of God.  In Jesus' Precious, Holy Name I pray, amen.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Called to be Philosophers?

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.  So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplaces day by day with those who happened to be there.  A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him.  Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?"  Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods."  They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.  Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?  You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean."  (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)  (Acts 17:16-21)

       A few weeks ago I haphazardly got involved in a philosophical discourse with a young gentleman.  I didn't mean for it to happen, it just did.  I had commented on a FaceBook friend's link and had augmented my point by using scripture.  Before I knew it, I was being challenged by a student of philosophy!  By all regards, I was shocked that I had even gotten baited into this discussion because most certainly, that was not my intention.  Further, I was never interested in philosophy and at at 51, have no desire, not even the slightest bend to engage in that field of academia.  In light of my philosophical disinterest, I had to wonder if perhaps I had come across as someone who wanted a good argument.  I now realize that was not the case.

       My young "rival" was quite upset that I had quoted scripture and commented to me that I had come across as narrow-minded by stating that Jesus Christ was (is) the ONLY Way, the ONLY Truth, and the ONLY Life.  He further pointed out that by quoting scripture, I had diminished my argument, as if I had been attempting to prove something.  (I had not.)  Though well-spoken, full of ideas that unfortunately seemed non-ending and leading nowhere, and a passionate zeal against any hint of Christianity, it soon became readily apparent that this young philosopher was a nonbeliever.  For him, the mere thought that there was (is) only one path, one answer, and one truth to the mysteries of life was abhorrent.

       After about a day and a half of debate with this young man, the Holy Spirit brought deep conviction to my heart by reminding me of what the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:  "Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly."  (II Timothy 2:15)  I, as gracefully as possible, bowed out of the discussion and thankfully, learned a lesson in godliness and holiness.  But however, I pray that somehow, someway this young man with whom I crossed paths in the electronic arena of communication will come to know Jesus Christ as his personal Savior perhaps by way of a nugget of truth I or someone else wrote, before he enters the realm of eternity.  All of his brilliant ideas, as well as his effulgent aptitude for reasoning and discourse will not save him on the judgment day unless he permits Christ to be his Advocate in this life.  (I John 2:1)

        Upon arriving in Athens, the Apostle Paul was greatly distressed in his spirit from seeing all the vain and useless idols in the city (Wow, how would he have felt if he could have seen futuristically into the hearts of modern day man?), which more than likely played a significant role in him frequenting the synagogue to speak with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as spending time at the market places to speak with anyone who would listen to his message.  Somewhere between these locations, the apostle had the opportunity to engage in discussion with two philosophical groups:  the Epicureans and the Stoics.

       In short, the Epicureans essentially believed that life was to be lived for luxury and indulgence in sensual pleasures while the Stoics postulated a quite different stance.  They taught that life was to be free of passions whereby the individual was unmoved by any emotions such as grief or joy, for example.  Polemically, 180 degrees apart on the spectrum of beliefs, examination of the scriptures reveals that neither of these systems of thought is correct.  Indulgence of sensual pleasures, the forethought of the Epicureans, is a fruit of the flesh which is condemned in Galatians 5:19-21.  (Specifically, sexual immorality, selfish ambition, drunkenness, orgies, to name a few...) 

       Regarding Stoicism, even the Lord Jesus showed emotion when He cried at the tomb of Lazarus.  (John 11:35)  He most certainly showed anger upon entering the temple in Jerusalem only to find that the religious leaders were cheating the poor people out of money!  (Please read Matthew 21:12-13!)  All in all, the Apostle Paul had his work cut out for him while debating with these intellects!

       It shouldn't surprise anyone that the two groups of philosophers were amenable to at least listen to Paul.  The Bible says, "All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas."  (Acts 17:21)  Evidently, many Athenian citizens had an abundance of free time and had nothing better to do.  (This sure seems to give creedance to the old saying, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop.")  And so Paul began preaching to the people, introducing them to the only true God.  (Please take some time and read his forceful sermon given at Mars Hill in Athens as recorded in Acts 17:22-31.)

       Toward the end of Paul's discourse, he climaxes the sermon by mentioning the resurrection from the dead, which undoubtedly caught the ear of all the intellects.  The Bible says, "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, 'We want to hear you again on this subject.'  At that, Paul left the Council.  Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed....."  (Acts 17:32-34)  The crowd's response is notworthy, yet more typical.  Paul left the Council seemingly in an abrupt fashion, so we have to wonder what he was thinking and feeling.

       Scripture does not mention that the apostle speaks with anyone there again.  (Verse 34 is the last of chapter 17 of Acts.)  The first verse of Acts 18 says, "After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth."  Again, we see that some people did believe after listening to the apostle's address, but the impression left by scripture indicates that there were few followers.  We are compelled to ask if any of these new converts were from the ranks of the Epicurean or Stoic philosophers?  The Bible does not divulge any information.  Paul hence moves on to Corinth.

       The Apostle Paul makes some incredibly powerful statements in his first letter to the church in Corinth that lead me personally to believe that perhaps he viewed his evangelistic endeavors in Athens with some frustration, that conceivably he may have expected more fruit from his labors there.  (I readily confess that this is not my thought.  Regardless of the origin of the idea however, I most assuredly subscribe to the idea that the gospel of Jesus Christ will NOT spread successfully, with remaining fruit, by means of human wisdom mixed with the most astute debating skills.  [I apologize that I cannot recall where I got the idea that Paul may have felt some defeat in Athens.])  I ask that the reader indulge me by reading Paul's words to the believers in Corinth in the following paragraph.

       "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'  Where is the wise person?  Where is the teacher of the law?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified:  a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.(I Corinthians 1:18-25)  The apostle's vituperative outlook on philosophy and human wisdom cannot be denied!

       Could it be that Paul came to realize during his journey from Athens to Corinth that he had relied too heavily on his own abilities of discourse to lead the intelligentsia of Athens to Christ?  It's quite probable that he entertained this thought because later he writes in his epistle to Corinth the following, "And so it was with me, brothers and sisters.  When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power."  (I Corinthians 2:1-5)  It certainly seems reasonable that indeed, Paul was writing from a retrospective standpoint.

       Beloved of God, whether or not you concur with my line of thought, truthfully the point becomes mute when we consider how a soul enters the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ.  I'm confident that you'll agree that the conversion experience from death to eternal life upon salvation is a supernatural, divine phenomena that is completely independent of the greatest wisdom and philosophies of this fallen world.  Verily, no human being comes to God by way of worldly wisdom or great thought. 

       The Bible is abundantly clear that no one approaches God initially, but that He comes to us first!  If God did not comes to us in our hopeless, godless state of sin, if He didn't engage us first, we'd be lost for all eternity!  PERIOD!  Consider carefully the following verses that allude to this truth.  ".....and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit."  (I Corinthians 12:3)  "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."  (Romans 5:6)  "We love because he first loved us."  (I John 4:19)  "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you....."  (John 15:16)  There are of course more scriptures that that reinforce our dependence on God Almighty for His salvation.  However, hopefully the point is already made.

       So what of the philosophies of this world and their enlightenment for the human race?  Are they capable of saving you in eternity?  Absolutely not!  They may in some way enhance your life in some small way while in this life, but even that's doubtful.  Any thought that doesn't originate with God and His Word is arrogant, notwithstanding that it is supposed to ameliorate life today.  In light of that, are believers, or nonbelievers for that matter, called to be philosophers? 

       God does not call anyone to be a philosopher.  We certainly are not required to sit around and reason our lives away, nor should we!  Moreover, the Lord is not interested in our brilliant cognitive abilities to the extent that they dictate our thought-life, which ultimately steers the course of our lives, outside of His boundaries that He has set forth in Christ.  "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."  (Proverbs 3:5-6)  Our lives on this side of existence mandate a life of faith for "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone that comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."  (Hebrews 11:6)

       We live according to the eternal unseen that exists concurrently with the natural realm and yet in this unseen, God is known by all of His who seek Him with all their hearts.  He graciously reveals Himself and His Kingdom through the Word and the Spirit (Faith is NOT blind, contrary to the old adage!), and not by way of vain imaginations and reasonings of which we humans are more than capable of creating in our sinful, rebellious minds.  The Apostle Paul warns another church of this danger when he writes, "See to it that no one carries you off as spoil or makes you yourselves captive by his so-called philosophy and intellectualism and vain deceit (idle fancies and plain nonsense), following human tradition (men's ideas of the material rather than the spiritual world), just crude notions following the rudimentary and elemental teachings of the universe and disregarding [the teachings of] Christ (the Messiah)."  (Colossians 2:8, Amp.)

       Saints of God, today, purpose in your heart that you are going to trust without question the Living, Breathing, All-Wise and All-Knowing God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as He desirously reveals Himself to you through His Christ by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the written Word.  We do not need some vainglorious ideology that attempts to explain the meaning of our existence on planet earth, as well as how we should behave while here.  Rather, what we need, and really crave when the rubber meets the road, is the glorious reality of Jesus Christ's Presence in our lives.  He is the only WAY, the only TRUTH, the only LIFE!  Amen and amen!!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Leaven of Herod (Part Two)

Two things I ask of you, LORD;
   do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
   give me neither poverty nor riches,
   but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
   and say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or I may become poor and steal,
   and so dishonor the name of my God.  (Proverbs 30:7-9)

"Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous--with life-joy and satisfaction in God's favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the poor in spirit (the humble, who rate themselves insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!"  (Matthew 5:3, Amp)

       Many Christians today wrongly believe that they are called to be strong in the power of their own flesh and might, that somehow this is pleasing to God.  Yet nothing could be further from the truth.  For these people, any weakness is viewed as failure and should be avoided at all costs.  Even if they feel weak and out of control. they'd never admit it for God would be sorely displeased and disappointed.  Therefore, these same individuals frequently wear the mask of strength at all times while hardly ever depending on the Lord for anything.

       It is never God's will that we function on an independent plane outside of Him if for no other reason, simply because it leaves Christ and His finished work at the cross, and the power of the Holy Spirit out of the entire equation of human existence thereby making it impossible for God to get the glory.  (How can He be glorified when we've done His job for Him?)  This mindset, this evil influence, the leaven of Herod is nothing more than religious atheism.  We can dress it up and make it look biblical, hence acceptable to those around us, but God sees straight through it.  "All a person's ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD."  (Proverbs 16:2)

       I once provided care for a gentleman who had a son that was a pastor.  The patient and his wife spoke incessantly about how great their son was, about all of his academic accomplishments and how he pastored a large church of several hundred parishioners.  During my 12-hour shift, neither the husband nor the wife once mentioned the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the head of the Church at large and Who is the Chief Boss of their son.  ["And he is the head of the body, the church....."  (Colossians 1:18)]  Sadly, there wasn't even the slightest hint of Him in their conversation.  Finally, it became apparent to me that neither my patient nor his wife knew the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior.  As far as they were concerned, their son's numerous successes were the golden calf, the god to be revered and adored. 

       Beloved, it's this attitude, the leaven of Herod, religious atheism, that is so prevalent in the Body of Christ today among those who confess Christ as their Lord and Savior.  It's frightening and quite disturbing.  (Oh, and please don't be of the mindset that I'm some harsh, overbearing Christian!  There's nothing wrong with us bragging on our children and what they do, especially for God's Kingdom and Christ's Church!  But we must be cautious and temperate in all things. [Galatians 5:22]) 

       Dearest friends, there is no place in the Bible that even remotely purports that Christians are to function as independent entities apart from God, His Christ and Spirit.  "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (I Corinthians 1:24) is that which undergirds the success of the believer, and to the extent we truly believe and rest in that truth, the more successful we become in the Kingdom of God.  God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in us must needs be the source of all things accomplished in and through us, else we will surely end up trying to save ourselves, serve the Kingdom in the power of the flesh and worse yet, be in charge of our own destinies.  That may seem innocuous, but really it's quite dangerous spiritually.  Even in its most innocent appearance, operating under the unholy influence of the leaven of Herod is a literal proclamation of emancipation from God Almighty.  Whether we see or intend it that way, that is the way the Lord interprets it.  And quite honestly, if we choose to live emancipated from God, we become no better than Eve in the Garden of Eden when she fell for the serpent's lie.

       "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he at it."  (Genesis 3:6)  We note that Eve passed the fruit to Adam and he hence passed it on.....and on......and on.....and on.  Death and separation from our Creator became the fruit of that awful choice.  AND now today, as it was in the Garden of Eden, the spirit of independence from God spreads like a viral contagion and has lamentably pierced the safe-haven walls of the Body of Christ.  So we sons and daughters of God must beware!  ["Don't you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?"  (I Corinthians 5:6)] 

       Frighteningly, no one is exempt from the poisonous leaven that permeates the hearts of the spiritually slothful.  The fruit of independence captivates the sinful nature of the believer and without further question, appears almost virtuous.  But again, this attitude is nothing more than the leaven of the once mighty King Herod, a reality of christian infidelity at its finest.  It is sheer unbelief and rightly stinks in the nostrils of God.

       Be not deceived, dear believer!  God does NOT help those who insist on helping themselves, but rather, God helps those who humble themselves before Him and freely acknowledge that their whole being and existence depend solely on Him and Him alone!  ".......'God opposes the proud but gives favor to the humble.'  Humble yourselves, therefore under God's mighty hand, that he might lift you up in due time."  (I Peter 5:5-6)  The Lord can only operate in the lives of those who are surrendered to Him, those who have given up their will in exchange for His.

       Jesus warned His disciples to steer clear of the leaven of Herod; the Holy Spirit through the Word of God warns us believers today to do the same.  May God's Spirit give us eyes to see and ears to hear.  We forever shall be dependent upon God Almighty for everything in this life, for it is the Spirit in us, as we wholly yield ourselves to Him, that works the good and perfect will of the Eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen."  (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Leaven of Herod (Part One)

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat.  "Be careful," Jesus warned them.  "Watch for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod."

They discussed this with one another and said, "It is because we have no bread."

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them:  "Why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not see or understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?  And don't you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?"

"Twelve," they replied.

"And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?"

They answered, "Seven."

He said to them, "Do you still not understand?"  (Mark 8:14-21)

       All my life I've heard the cliché, "God helps those who help themselves."  As a matter of fact, I can't remember a time in life when I haven't heard it.  I still hear it from time to time!  It's as if those words were as old as the hills from whence I came.  Theologically sound, or so it seems, most wouldn't question the validity of the statement.  After all, if we put forth the effort necessary to accomplish the "good" things in life, won't God help us to achieve that which we've set out to do?

       Miracles are wonderful, but if they don't teach us anything, if they don't affect any change in our lives after we have witnessed them, then it's as if they become null and void for us.  They are rendered insignificant by our unbelief or spiritual dullness, and are quickly overlooked.  Jesus must then reiterate to us, for our sakes, that which He rhetorically asked His twelve disciples:  "Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?"  (Mark 8:17-18)

       How then do Christians need to respond to miraculous interventions in our lives and those of others?  Allow me to elucidate.  If I'm terminally ill and Jesus were to heal my body, the wonder and amazement of how God Almighty can invade the natural with His supernatural should fundamentally bring to me a sense of awe.  The result of my experience with God's miraculous divineness must be that I, in the deepest recesses my heart, understand that with Christ all things are possible (Philippians 4:13) AND without Him nothing is.  Progressively, that realization needs to change my heart such that I begin to lean upon Him for everything in life; nothing is excluded!  Ultimately, I will surely choose to no longer control the circumstances of my life.  I freely, of my own volition, surrender that right.  When all is said and done, the miraculous healing I received from the Lord will have had the desired effect for which it was designed to have.  I am forever changed for the better.  I will no longer be in charge of my life, nor will I trust in any of my talents and abilites.  Jesus Christ is my everything, my all in all.  I will have surrendered my entire being to His tender care.

       Contrast the above process that concludes with my sweet surrender to God because of His divine grace afforded me in the form of the miraculous healing of my body against the aforementioned cliché, "God helps those that help themselves."  We quickly, and hopefully, begin to see that the ever-famous saying begins to lose it theological weight.  It simply isn't valid.

       The twelve disciples had witnessed the mighty, life-changing power of God through Jesus when He replicated five loaves of bread and two fish in order to feed a multitude.  Despite that the disciples were there as witnesses to the event and even helped to distribute the food, the wondrous miracle did not change their outlook.  They still didn't see Jesus for Who He was:  the Son of God.  For them, the miracle was, for the time being, lost in a sea of unbelief and/or dullness of their spiritual eyes.

       The disciples were at that point no better off than the Pharisees, who were unwilling to believe Jesus.  (They had already demanded a sign from the Lord, but didn't get one.  Signs must follow our belief, never proceed it.)  Their godless minds were still closed as to how God can and still does alter the affairs of the human race.  (Unfortunately, many Christians today say that God can perform miracles but they really don't believe it else it would change how they approach the Lord.  They would start to genuinely trust Him for the needs of their lives instead of trying to accomplish things by using their own ingenuity.)  The Pharisees had the mindset of one who is given over to a pervasive influence found in the church today, the leaven of Herod.

       What is the leaven of Herod?  To get an answer to this, we begin by consulting God's Word in Matthew 2:1-12.  Synoptically, we read the story of the wise men that came from afar by following the star leading them to Israel where the Christ Child was to be born.  Upon their arrival in Israel, they announced His birth and inquired where is birthplace was so they could worship and give Him gifts.  King Herod was shaken to the core of his being at this news consequently he gathered the religious echelon together to discover the validity of this announcement given by the wise men.  A search of the scriptures in Micah revealed the location of the Child's birth:  Bethlehem of Judea.  In secret, King Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem telling them to seek the Child and when they had found Him, let the king know the location so he too could worship the Baby.  King Herod's evil plan was thwarted when God spoke to the magi in a dream warning them not to return to the palace afterwards.

       Indeed, Herod had absolutely no intention of bowing his knees to the Baby Jesus!  Scripture teaches that he plotted the demise of the Baby by ordering that all male babies two years old and under be slaughtered!  As far as the king was concerned, he himself was the king; there was no other.  He was in charge.

       Further investigation of Herod affirms his incredible achievements as the ruler of Israel, as well as a fierce desire to remain as such!  The Compact Bible Dictionary states, "Herod the Great established his authority and influence through a centralized bureaucracy, well-built fortresses, and foreign soldiers.  To assure his continued rule, he slaughtered all male infants who could possibly be considered legal heirs to the throne.  His wife Mariamne also became a victim.

       The territories under Herod's rule experienced economic and cultural growth.  His business and organizational ability led to the erection of many important buildings.  Hellenistic (Greek) ideas were introduced into Palestine through literature, art, and athletic contests.  His major building project was the timple complex in Jerusalem, which according to John 2:20, had taken 46 years to build up to that time.  From the Jewish perspective, this was his greatest achievement."  (Youngblood Ronald F., Bruce F.F., Harrison R.K.; Compact Bible Dictionary; Thomas Nelson Publishers 2004, Nashville, Tennessee; p. 265.) 

       Clearly, Herod realized numerous monumental achievements in the arts and humanities as well as architecture and sports, and ruled with an "iron fist," evidently.  In light of this knowledge, one is compelled to ask why would anyone of that influencial caliber bow on bended knee to worship the Baby Jesus Who was born in a nasty, filthy manger of common ordinary people?

       In reality, the question of bowing to Jesus for most people in modern-day society is one that perhaps should be posed in many churches of today.  Why should numerous people that sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday of the rich, elite congregations worship Jesus Christ?  (But honestly, do they really?)  There's hardly any reason to do so.  So many church-goers, many of whom are self-professed successes in every right as far as the world is concerned, flaunt a portfolio of endless accomplishments that piles high to the heavens.  Many of them are financially well-to-to, and certainly have no need for God's daily bread, neither spiritual as well as financial.  Yet, lest we think only the rich and well-accomplished are the only ones that fall under the hypnotic, evil spell of the leaven of Herod, beware!

       Many of the church's "poorer" operate under the same hellish influence, the leaven of Herod and therefore are as guilty as their rich counterparts.  You see beloved, the leaven of Herod is a mindset that transcends socio-economic status.  It is an influence that was birthed, and is still propagated, in hell itself and  the world has obviously bought into it. This powerful, seductive influence is the spirit of the antichrist at work stealthily and most subtly that unfortunately has crept from the world into the church, infiltrating the same at every level.  Certainly, one of the leaven of Herod's mainstays is that "God helps those that help themselves," a statement that is not biblical and must at all costs be refuted by any follower of Christ.  Because of the presence of this satanic attitude in the church, many faithful attenders will not bow to Jesus Christ much less allow His Lordship to influence them in the least.  Outwardly, it may appear that they submit to Christ's Lordship, but in their hearts they wouldn't dare.  And why should they?  They don't need Jesus because they already have their lives "together" without Him.  What can He offer them that they don't already have?

       Stay tuned to this blog site for the upcoming Part Two of "The Leaven of Herod"........

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Belated Thoughts on 9/11

       The morning of September 11, 2001 was like any other break of day.  I got up early to fix coffee for my wife and me.  (Carol was sleeping in.)  I prepared the coffee, took Carol her cup, and turned the TV on to one of the morning shows.  Interestingly, the first thing I saw was a picture of the World Trade Center with smoke coming out of one of the trade towers.  People on the morning show were making comments seemingly in a hushed tone as if they didn't quite know themselves what was happening.  During the first few minutes, I do not recall anyone making any comments on a possible terrorist attack.  I continued to stare at the image of the twin tower on the screen, with thick smoke billowing out of the sides of the building.  Obviously, there was a huge fire in the building, but what could have caused it?  I sat transfixed, eyes glued to the screen.

       My mind raced back to the late 1980s, early 1990s when I was stationed at the Naval Military Personnel Command in Washington, D.C.  I had three friends from my days in Data Processing Technician "A" School in San Diego, California who were stationed at Fort Meade just outside of Washington in Maryland.  Like clockwork, every three months the four of us guys would take a tour bus from Fort Meade, Maryland up to New York City where we'd spend the day.  At 6:00 p.m. sharp we would meet up with the bus at the front of St Patrick's Cathedral for the ride back to Fort Meade. 

       Exhausted and elated from our time in the Big Apple, we'd talk about the day.  The agenda was somewhat different each time we visited the city, but there were some things we enjoyed time and again.  The Statue of Liberty (In those days the public was allowed to climb the steps from the base to the crown.), the Empire State Building, Central Park, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine were some of our favorites.  Many times we'd go down below the great city and ride the subway system just to rest.  The graffiti and the stench of ozone found in the subway system, still after 20+ years, pleasantly linger in my mind.  I always enjoyed our trips to New York City!

       During one of our visits in December 1989 about a week before Christmas, we decided that we should visit the World Trade Center.  For whatever reason, we had never been there before so why not?  My buddies and I spent a good portion of the morning there (not hard to do!) with the climax of the memorable sojourn being a trip up to the observation deck of Twin Tower #2.  (Twin Tower #1 didn't have an observation deck.)  The view was breathtakingly spectacular!  The wind was unrelentingly frigid and I thought we would surely freeze to death before getting back inside!  But, we had our cameras and so we decided to take lots of pictures.  Somewhere in the depths of all my belongings at my home, and some assorted stuff still at my parents' house, there is a picture of me leaning against the rail on the observation deck of Twin Tower #2.  Now, more than ever, I wish I could find the photo because it would have a lot of significance for me.

       As I sat, eyes still stuck to the TV screen, much to my horror, I saw an airplane come around from an angle and go through the other world trade center building!  What in the world.........  I remember yelling at Carol to quickly get up, that obviously the United States was under some terrorist attack!  And the rest was history........  How rapidly my throughts were jolted from the pleasant memories of yesteryear to a horrid reality!

       We hear about, or directly witness atrocities that defy human imagination and so often we ask, "Why did God allow this to happen if truly He is a good God and also sovereign?"  Initially, the question seems reasonable.  Why, God?  However, when we start examining scripture, we begin to realize that tragedies, of any magnitude or cause be they natural disasters or acts of evil such as 9/11, are not God's fault.  Yes, He could have averted them, plainly, but He didn't.  In reality, what we are seeing is the disastrous consequences of sin and what it has done to every human since Adam, and how it has even affected planet earth.

       The human race is fallen due to the first Adam's choice to disobey God and partake of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  We are witnesses (some are participants unfortunately) of the dire consequences of what happens when man chooses to disregard and alienate himself from God, rejecting the Almighty's authority through rebellion.  It's not a pretty picture.  Please don't misunderstand.  In relation to the world's population, only a handful of people were directly responsible for the events of 9/11.  To be sure, the many catastrophes of that day can only be attributed to a few mad, raving lunatics that had no regard for human life, even their own!  But, it is impossible to isolate their behavior from the remainder of human existence and its foregoing sinful state.  Evil is evil is evil is evil. 

       For us human beings, how evil manifests varies greatly.  The occurrences of 9/11 and the atrocities of Hitler and his WWII armies of madness, as well as other notable events of history, cause us to pause and reflect only because of how horrific they were.  We focus on the magnitude of the atrocity consequently "measuring" evil.  However, for God, evil is a direct result of sin and isn't quantified.  He sees no difference between Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden vice all that transpired at 9/11 in New York City.  This is a hard pill for us to swallow, even as Christians, yet sin is NOT an act or acts.  Sin is a perpetual state of a heart that refuses to surrender to its Creator in humility and repentance.  "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our way....."  (Isaiah 53:6)

       The Bible says, "There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."  (Romans 3:11-12)  Solomon, the wisest man that has ever lived wrote, "Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who is right and never sins."  (Ecclesiastes 7:20)  Our sin nature, as a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden becomes our undoing.  We cannot rightly and justly blame God Almighty for the failures and corruptions of humanity, including even the natural disasters!  King Solomon summed it up well in one proverb, "People ruin their own lives by their foolishness and then are angry at the LORD."  (Proverbs 19:3, NLT)  The bottom line is that every human is born into a state of sin, separated from God, even at birth.  (Please refer to Psalm 51:5)  When things go awry in our lives, or in world events, we point toward heaven with words of blame instead of pointing at ourselves.  Not smart.  That doesn't solve anything.

       If indeed the human race is capable of such monumental evil as 9/11, and evidently it is, then each of us ought to consider the condition of the human heart to discover what lies inside of each of us.  Moreover, we are compelled to not stop at the individual level but rather, we must consider the heart of the nation as a whole.  In the Old Testament, God's people were constantly oscillating between times when they would love, honor and obey Him; and periods of profound backsliding when they would engage in abysmal idolatry. 

       During the time of the judges of Israel, the Lord would allow His people to undergo unspeakable bondage to their neighbors i.e. the Midianites when His chosen would turn their backs on Him.  They would then cry out to the Lord and He would send them a judge (a shadow, a figure of Christ the Messiah), a deliverer from their enemies.  This became a vicious cycle during Israel's period of history before they had an earthly king.  Later, during the reign of the kings, the pattern of apostasy lamentably kept repeating itself as it had done during the period of the judges.  Nothing changed.  So the consideration is this:  Israel was God's chosen people through whom He elected to reveal Himself to the human race, and through whom He would subsequently send the Savior, His own Son, Jesus Christ, to save the same.  Can we as the United States of America actually believe that we are any less guilty of apostasy and backsliding than God's elect?  Do we not deserve punishment like they did?  Dear blessed reader, the unadulterated truth is that we are as guilty as the nation of Israel of the Old Testament! 

       Israel's sins piled high to heaven notwithstanding God's constant warnings through the prophets.  The northern kingdom of Israel (Israel split into northern and southern kingdoms after King Solomon's death.) was eventually obliterated from history by the mighty Assyrians; about 150 years later the southern kingdom received its just recompense from the fierce Babylonians.  The Bible offers an eerie description of the fall of Jerusalem, which served as the capital city of the southern kingdom of Judah.  "The LORD, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place.  But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm.  God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.  He carried to Babylon all the articles of the temple, both large and small, and the treasures of the LORD's temple and the treasures of the king and his officials.  They set fire to God's temple and broke down the walls of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.  He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power."  (II Chronicles 36:15-20)  Could this mayhem happen in America?  New York City, September 11, 2001? 

       We, the United States of America are a mighty nation that has been blest beyond compare.  But this season of continual blessing cannot endure if we are going to repeatedly disregard the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the salvation He offers through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ; and passionately embrace the deplorable practices of idolatry and reckless bloodshed.  (The abominable practice of abortion in this country is in itself enough to bring God's judgment and wrath upon us!)  Whether we want to regard the events of 9/11 as a wakeup call to this great land, the home of the free and the brave, remains our choice.  If they serve as a wakeup call, repent we shall; if not, we will march on in our unyielding path of sin.  Make no mistake about it however, sin doesn't go unobserved and cannot continue indefinitely.  God Almighty sees it all and most assuredly, there is a day of reckoning. 

       Mercifully, the Bible gives us an example from scripture, speaking of the judgment of a wicked, unrepentant place, Babylon.  "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.  Give back to her as she has given; pay back her double portion for what she has done.  Pour her a double portion for her own cup."  (Revelation 18:4-6)  Since this scripture strongly alludes to the sure call of God's divine justice, we wisely heed the warning by taking advantage of the option to flee a life of sin through repentance, on an individual as well as national level.  And let us not forget that Jesus Christ took the sins of the world at the cross and forever appeased the righteousness of God, but that does NOT give any nation or people the license to ignore God by continuing to walk blatantly unrepentant, mocking the Holy One every step of the way.  There is always a choice before each of us.  We are not doomed to a life of sin.  "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace."  (Ephesians 1:7)  Praise God for His goodness and forgiveness in Christ Jesus!!! 

       May God Almighty have mercy upon us, this great nation of the United States of America!  And may we walk in obedience by getting Him back into our lives, in EVERY aspect of our existence.  So be it, amen.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Believer's Companion: God the Holy Spirit.....(Part Three)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  (II Corinthians 13:14) 

       How can any believer really experience the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father if they do not have fellowship with the Holy Spirit?  God the Father is not here on planet earth, nor is God the Son.....

       The Lord Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be the "Guardian" of the truth.  "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.  He will not speak on his own, he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you."  (John 16:13-15)  Without fail, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit will share with us the deep things of the Son AND the Father.  It is quite noteworthy that God's Spirit never ever acts independently from the other two members of the trinity!  He does not promote an agenda of His own while here on earth with us.  Rather, He always works in accordance with the Father and the Son.

       The Holy Spirit will never ever contradict the written word, the Bible.  "For there are three that testify:  the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement."  (I John 5:7-8)  [The water in this scripture refers to the Word of God.]  Thus, reader beware, if anyone would dare promote another gospel or theology that is extraneous or even minutely different to that which is taught in the Holy Scriptures, they definitely speak by another spirit and not of God's!  (Galatians 1:8-9)  God the Holy Spirit will only promote the pure, unadulterated gospel of "Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."  (I Corinthians 1:24)

       And so, given all this, what will we do with God the Holy Spirit?  ..........

       Lamentably, many believers today needlessly struggle with the truth and reality of the Holy Spirit. (Perhaps this is because they have had a "negative" pentecostal experience i.e. witnessing "fleshly" manifestations in which others literally acted possessed, behaving as if they were out of their minds or out of control.  Therefore, this caused some fear and trepidation for the observer that was so strong that any further mention of the Holy Spirit became a turnoff.)  They choose either to completely ignore Him, and try to live a Christian life independently of His existence and Person, or they try to manipulate Him into manifesting in the manner, time and place they would choose.  Sadly, some people even refer to Him as "it," as if He were some impersonal, cosmic force with which to reckon. 

       Beloved of God, our ignorance on the matter of Who God's Spirit is and what He wills to do today in these last days is reproachful, it's downright shameful!  We have God's written Word, the Bible, and we have the Holy Spirit Himself living inside our hearts, as well as numerous books on the subject authored by Godly men and women who have had prosperously glorious ministries under the auspice of God's wonderful Spirit of power.  (I Corinthians 3:16; 6:19)  We cannot say that we're uninformed regarding the Spirit and what He wills to do.  Consequently, we all must choose what we will do with the Spirit of the Lord.  The church has finally arrived at the crossroad of decision!

       Will we hide the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord away in the closet of the heart (out of sight, out of mind) or will we acknowledge Him as we freely do with our Father and Jesus, the Son of God?  Will we lovingly yield to His Lordship since He desires to bring heaven into our midst, or will we try to forge our will upon His, as by doing so we blatantly practice witchcraft?  (Manipulation, intimidation and domination imposed upon any person, or persons, the Holy Spirit no less included, is the practice of witchcraft!  [Making Him the object of our pitiful mind games doesn't work.  We cannot fool or lull Him though we would often dare try.  He is God Almighty!]  God's people must begin to understand this!)

       Each person is responsible before God regarding what he or she will do with Jesus.  Will they accept or reject Him?  For those who accept Christ, each saint must then decide what he or she will do with God's Holy Spirit.  Will we accept His Personhood and Lordship, and therefore work closely with Him allowing Him to advance the Kingdom of God through us as we lovingly choose to submit to Him, as well as permitting Him to conform us to the very image of Christ?  (Romans 8:29)  Or will we go around covering up, even denying by our actions and avoidance, the reality of His glorious existence?

       The Apostle Paul closes one of his epistles by writing, "Do not quench the Spirit."  (I Thessalonians 5:19)  Would any Christian decidedly attempt to extinguish the mighty power of God?  Would any believer in Jesus Christ purposefully stifle or suppress the lovely Spirit of grace as He so wants to bring the presence of Christ and the Father into our lives?  Surely the answer to both questions is emphatically "NO!"  However, by ignoring the Person of the Holy Spirit, refusing to deal with His reality, and never speaking His Name from the lips rendering sweet devotion to Him as we would with the Father and the Son, we are quenching Him.  Plain and simple.  May God help us.  May we never suppress the third Person of our Trinitarian Lord!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Believer's Companion: God the Holy Spirit.....(Part Two)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  (II Corinthians 13:14) 

       How can any believer really experience the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father if they do not have fellowship with the Holy Spirit?  God the Father is not here on planet earth, nor is God the Son.....

       It is an undeniable truth that God the Holy Spirit directed the life of Jesus during his short ministry.  Just as important, especially for us believers today, Jesus taught His disciples about His and the Father's divine plan to have the Spirit come to earth to continue the Savior's ministry.  Jesus, in pure obedience, had thoroughly submitted to the Father by way of God's Spirit.  As His time on earth rapidly came to a close, He desired to share the truth of the Holy Spirit with His disciples so they too could experience fellowship with the Father, and with Him!

       Scripture teaches that the Christ, when He came to earth, "stripped" Himself of all power in order to become like man.  (Please refer to Luke 4:18-19; Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 2:9, 2:14-17)  In and of Himself, He was completely powerless and depended wholly on God the Holy Spirit for everything He did in His ministry.  Important scriptures that illustrate Jesus receiving and submitting to God's Holy Spirit are:  "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him."  (Matthew 3:16); "Jesus, full of the the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil."  (Luke 4:1); and, "Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside."  (Luke 4:14) 

       Jesus depended on God's Spirit for everything.  He, without doubt, kept deep, abiding, intimate fellowship with the Holy Spirit at all times.  His success depended on it because by having uninterrupted fellowship with God the Holy Spirit, Jesus had the necessary, constant link to His Heavenly Father.

       Continuing, there are two important considerations as we reflect on the Holy Spirit and His ministry upon coming to earth.  Firstly, we note that the Spirit came to earth per Jesus' request to the Father.  This was a planned, coordinated effort between all members of the Godhead.   "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever--the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."  (John 14:16-17)  It wasn't coincidental that the Lord shared this with the disciples shortly before His crucifixion, knowing that soon He would have to leave them to fulfill the Father's plan that He, the Christ, die upon the cross, and thus have to leave behind his beloved followers. 
       Secondly, the Lord refers to His Spirit as the "advocate," or "comforter" in the King James.  The Greek word here is paraklētoswhich means (1) summoned, called to one's side, especially called to one's aid, (2) one who pleads another's cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate, (3) one who pleads another's cause with one, and intercessor [Please please read Romans 8:26-27 to see what the Spirit can and will do for you!], (4) of Christ in his exaltation at God's right hand, pleading with God the Father for the pardon of our sins, (5) in the widest sense, a helper, succourer, aider, assistant, (6) of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom.  It should be evident how desperately we need this wonderful Person with us in the absentia of Christ! 

       Jesus later assures the disciples that when the Advocate (Spirit) comes, He would vouch for the reality of Christ.  "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father--the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father--he will testify about me."  (John 15:26)  The Spirit will ALWAYS, unfailingly give an honorable report about the Son of God.  He will witness the presence of Christ in our hearts.  This affirmation is sure and certain; we can depend on it!  Furthermore, and no less importantly, the Apostle Paul told the church that this same indwelling witness of the Holy Spirit allows us to recognize and acknowledge God Almighty as our Heavenly Father.  "Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.'"  (Galatians 4:6)  [See also Romans 8:15.] 

       How incredibly exciting it is to have more than just head-knowledge of the truth that we are sons and daughters of God, and joint-heirs with Christ!  (Romans 8:16-17)  The Spirit, Who lives in the heart of every believer per the will of God the Father and God the Son, testifies directly to us the reality of who we are in Christ and to Whom we belong!  Praise the Lord for His goodness!  And thanks be to Him for allowing us to have uninterrupted, sweet fellowship with His Spirit!  It is in the depths of this intimacy that we can indeed know who we are.  Additionally, we can through the Spirit enjoy the love of our Heavenly Father and move forward in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Believer's Companion: God the Holy Spirit.....(Part One)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  (II Corinthians 13:14) 

       How can any believer really experience the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father if they do not have fellowship with the Holy Spirit?  God the Father is not here on planet earth, nor is God the Son.....

       The Lord Almighty God; the Maker of heaven and earth; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of the Bible is a Triune God:  He is three Persons:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Yet there is only one God.  "Hear, O Israel;  The LORD our God, the LORD is one."  (Deuteronomy 6:4)  We often refer to, or hear, the word "trinity" in clerical parlance, and in layman's terms as well.

       The mystery of the Trinity has baffled man, theologians and non-academics or layman, for centuries yet there really isn't any "plausible" explanation for the three in one truth of this Eternal God simply because it defies the human mind.  How can there be only one God and yet He is three separate Persons Who are not the same?  Logically and mathematically, this is an impossibility, isn't it?

       The Bible teaches the existence of the Trinity.  Most assuredly, God is three Persons and yet there is only one God.  It is not within the scope of this particular blog to convince the reader of this.  There are ample scriptures, as well as a plethora of writings and books on the subject, which should convince the willing heart that is open to God's truth to indeed accept the trinitarian nature of the Lord even if an individual cannot reason or figure it out.  Basically, there are many things we must accept by faith even if we don't understand them, and the truth of the trinitarian God certainly falls into that category!  Thankfully, God has given all humans (unbelievers included) a measure of faith.  (Please read Romans 1:17; 12:3)  (NOTE:  The author of this blog judiciously reminds all readers to "test the spirits to see if they be of God....."  [I John 4:1]  "But test everything that is said.  Hold on to what is good."  [I Thessalonians 5:21]  Do NOT believe something written here just because the author purports it as the truth.  You, the reader, should settle anything and everything promulgated in this blog in your heart by searching out the scriptures and prayerfully meditating.  This cannot be overstated!  You, reader, are responsible for not being deceived!)

       The Apostle Paul closes his second letter to the church in Corinth with the benediction posted at the top of this blog, II Corinthians 13:14.  The King James Version of the Bible uses the word "communion" in place of "fellowship."  The Greek word for "communion" is koinōnia” which means (1) fellowship, (2) association, (3) joint participation, (4) intercourse, (5) intimacy, and (6) the share of which one has in anything.  Clearly, the implication is that all believers in Christ are to have a relationship with the Holy Spirit that is quite personal and intimate!  Paul also bequeaths the love of God and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to the church, and to all believers today!  Hence the question remains.  If God the Father and God the Son are not here, but rather in heaven, how can we experience their love and grace if we do not have fellowship with the Holy Spirit?  The question warrants thoughtful soul-searching, moreover especially for struggling Christians who cannot seem, despite themselves, to experience God's love and grace for whatever reason, and whose lives appear void of victory promised to all believers!

Friday, August 19, 2011

When in the Midst of Sheer Chaos and Crisis

David and his men reached Ziklag on the third day.  Now the Amalekites had raided the Negev and Ziklag.  They had attacked Ziklag and burned it, and had taken captive the women and everyone else in it, both young and old.  They killed none of them, but carried them off as they went on their way.

When David and his men reached Ziklag, they found it destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive.  So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.  David's two wives had been captured--Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel.  David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.  But David found strength in the LORD his God.

Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelek, "Bring me the epod."  Abiathar brought it to him, and David enquired of the Lord, "Shall I pursue this raiding party?  Will I overtake them?"  

"Pursue them," he answered.  "You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue."  (I Samuel 30:1-8)

       David finally reached the pinnacle of his wilderness experience as the Lord had prepared him to assume kingship over Israel.  In I Samuel 16, the Prophet Samuel anointed him as king of Israel, a position that David would not assume for quite awhile since the Lord desired to test and refine him by placing David in numerous difficult situations, some even life-threatening!  Yet despite great persecution and betrayal that almost defies human imagination, David grew in his faith and remained steadfast. 

       King Saul had tried repeatedly to kill David because of profound jealousy, knowing full well that David would eventually replace him as the king of Israel.  Interestingly and significantly, David on two instances could have circumvented the process by killing Saul, yet he chose not to do so because he knew that Saul was still the anointed king of God's people.  David knew the scriptures of his forefathers.  "It is mine to avenge; I will repay.  In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them."  (Deuteronomy 32:35)  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would avenge all wrongs committed against David and he rested in those promises although there were no doubt numerous times that he wondered if God had surely not forgotten him.

       David returned to Ziklag where he and his two wives had been living for several years.  Ziklag was in enemy territory, a place given to him by King Achish, a philistine king.  (David had decided to settle there because he felt that he would finally be out of the clutches of Saul if he were in the enemy's domain.)  The Amalekites, a vile enemy of God's people, had raided Ziklag, burned everything to the ground, looted the livestock, and had taken the woman and children.  Obviously, at that point, David and his men had no idea if even any of their loved ones had survived the merciless onslaught.

       Bleak as the whole scene presented itself, "fuel was added to the fire" when David's men decided to take their anger and frustration out on him:  they were ready to kill the poor guy!  After all, he was solely responsible for what happened, wasn't he?  Despite everything, the scripture teaches us that "David found strength in the LORD his God."  These are strong, powerful words that indicate to the reader the state of David's heart and how henceforth from that point he was prepared to assume the leadership of Israel, God's people.  No, David didn't immediately become the king, as the scriptures clearly indicate.  There was still a major battle to fight, because he chose to not only find strength in the LORD his God, but decisively sought the Lord to find out what God wanted him to do to rectify this horrific situation.  David and his men would enter the camp of the Amalekites, slaughter them and reclaim all that the enemy had stolen from them. 

       Unquestionably, there isn't a reader of this blog that would deny that life is not quite difficult at times.  In reality, for many it appears that life is unyieldingly complicated most of the time!  We find ourselves in one quagmire only to find out that after one situation is resolved, we're in the middle of another hardship.  Heaven forbid, sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of several dilemmas all at once!  Thus is life.  Though the difficulties we incur seemingly suggest that we do not have a choice regarding how we can respond, the truth cannot be denied.  Indeed, we do have choices!  We can choose to be like King Saul and become increasingly bitter toward the circumstances in which we find ourselves or we can choose to be like David and find strength in the Lord.  Moreover, as the scriptures teach in 1 Samuel 30, we can go beyond that and seek the Lord for what He would have us do.  His silence might suggest that we not do anything at any given point.  Or, He may give us specific instructions regarding how to handle an adversity.  Whatever the case, we can and must always trust His sovereignty.  His way is always best.

       There are two noteworthy things that David did when he returned to Ziklag only to find it completely decimated.  Firstly, David found strength in the Lord his God.  He didn't consult anyone or anything.  He didn't fret or raise "Cain."  He didn't express unspeakable doubts about his situation --there's nothing wrong with doing that-- nor did he blame God for his plight.  He found strength in the Lord his God.  What does that mean?

       Finding strength in the Lord is a reality that is not based on a one-time event.  Furthermore, it is not a mental ascension into the heavens by way of human endeavor.  Rather, finding strength in the Lord comes "by practice" when we daily seek His face and learn to enjoy His presence.  It is in the precious moments of intimacy with the Savior where we learn that certainly, we can trust Jesus in every situation of life --He becomes our strength, our solace, literally our everything!  He infuses His strength into our inner man as we bask in His glory for He ministers to the deepest part of our being when we're in that secret place.  The psalmist expresses this in God's Word.  "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me."  (Psalm 42:7) 

       It cannot be overstated that enjoying God's presence takes practice on our part simply because our flesh doesn't want to submit to the presence of the Lord, and will resist Him all the way.  The Bible alludes to how the flesh opposes God.  "The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.  Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God."  (Romans 8:7-8)  Fortunately however, once we get into a consistent habit of seeking His face (presence), it becomes quite natural as the flesh is forced into submission again and again.  We'll then soon discover we cannot survive without regularly seeking the Lord!

       Secondly, David made a conscious decision to seek advice from the Lord regarding how he should handle his grave situation.  "Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelek, "Bring me the ephod."  Abiathar brought it to him, and David inquired of the LORD, "Shall I pursue this raiding party?  Will I overtake them?"  (I Samuel 30:7-8)  We see that the Lord instructed him to proceed and chase the enemy.  Noteworthy, David didn't just assume that he should pursue the Amalekites just because He had enjoyed the presence of the Lord.  He specifically asked the Lord if he should go ahead after his enemies.  (The Lord certainly reserved the right to prevent David and his men from perservering after their adversaries.)

       Dear friends, God is constantly refining his people, you included!  The Master Craftsman (Jeremiah 18:6) is always chiseling us not only for the purpose of conforming us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), but also for the intention of lovingly preparing us for bigger and better things in this life.  David was anointed to be the king of Israel and would subsequently become the greatest king in that nation's history.  Yet is was necessary for the Lord to realize a great work of preparation for the young man in order to prepare him for such an enormous task.  And so it is with us, His saints today.  God's Spirit, in accordance with the will of the Father (John 15:1-2), will surely take us to those places of life where utter destruction and decimation seem to be the ruling force, or even the norm.  It is the Lord's will we see and experience that aspect of life.  Why?  Because it's there that the Lord refines us as we begin to realize that we can't save ourselves and so we trust wholly in His salvation.   

       Thankfully, we will discover that in God's divineness He will gladly and lovingly deliver us from the utter ruin of the situation --our Ziklag if you will-- if we'll allow Him!  Throughout all the process the Lord desperately wants us to be acquainted with His presence and unfailing supremacy, that which will ultimately deliver us from the most utterly hopeless situation in which we could ever find ourselves.  The end of Jonah's prayer expresses God's deliverance from the most seemingly impossible situations.  ""When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.  "Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them.  But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed I will make good.  I will say, 'Salvation comes from the LORD.'"  And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah 2:7-10) 

       Dear Father in Heaven, today so many of your loved ones find themselves in terrible situations, Ziklags.  Some are physically ill, some without jobs and adequate finances, some are experiencing the breakup of a marriage leaving them feeling rejected and hurt beyond words.  Lord, some of your saints feel as if You're a million miles away and care nothing about them.  The dryness of the soul is so profound that it feels as if one spark would ignite a devastating fire, one that would leave them completely whithered.  Father, I pray that God the Holy Spirit would bring to all of these precious souls the reality of the comfort of God given us in Christ Jesus our Messiah, the Savior.  May His peace flood us as we march through the pains of the experience You have us in.  May the Spirit remind us of your gracious presence that You so long to imbue, and may He further instruct us with that which You desire us to know.  Thank You Lord for conforming us into the image of Jesus.  We joyfully look forward to the other side of the heartache when we'll be that much more perfect and ready for every good and perfect work you have for us!  (James 1:1-2)  In Jesus' Mighty Name I pray.  Amen and amen.