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!