Monday, May 11, 2020

FREEDOM



Have you ever seen a bird caught in a cage? It cannot go where it wants to go. It cannot eat what it wants to eat. It is confined to the small area of its cage and the limited view it can glimpse beyond it. A caged bird cannot even open its wings and fly. It is a captive, and everything it does is determined by its captor.
            Every person is born a captive to sin and the consequences it has on our spirits, our bodies and our minds. We are caught in a trap of doing the things that our environment dictates. Our responses to various situations have been ingrained in us by our inherited carnal nature. Trying to change ourselves by a list of rules has proven to be totally inadequate, and yet we still feel the need and desire to change. We are always looking for something that we cannot attain, because we are in no way capable of bringing about our own freedom. Everything we do is determined by our captor (sin). That is, until Jesus.
            Jesus came to set the captives free. That includes you and me. Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me (the Messiah), because He has anointed Me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent Me to announce release (pardon, forgiveness) to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed (downtrodden, bruised, crushed by tragedy)…” But what does all that mean? The tragedy we all faced was the tyranny of sin and the hold it had on us. The blindness was spiritual blindness that kept us from seeing past the realm of our captor. We were all poor (needy in spirit) and without resources. But Jesus declares we can be set free from all of that.
The psalmist declared, “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.” In other words, Jesus has opened the cage door. Now it is up to us whether we will leave the cage behind or stay with what is familiar. Through Jesus we can be free from the dominion of sin and its restrictive, destructive nature. Once we surrender our lives to Him and He has dominion, the oppression of evil is broken, the heavy weight is lifted, and we are free to spread our wings and fly. We are free to ignore the voice of the enemy who held us captive. And we are free to open our ears to hear the voice of truth. Satan’s words are lies that he tells to lure us back to the cage and cause us to give up our freedom in Christ. Satan will confuse you as to what freedom really is if you listen to him. Jesus was very clear about truth and we have further clarification of our freedom in Christ in the Scripture. Freedom is a choice, and the choice is ours to make.
Are you content to be blindly pushed along with the crowd on a dark road that leads to ultimate death? Or had you rather walk down a road with Jesus beside you, a road that has light and will lead to life? Those are basically our two choices. Freedom is not the ability to make our own choices, but making wise choices that are based on truth and reality. When we make our choices based on lies, we cannot be free. Satan is determined to hold us captive, and keep us in the dark. But Jesus has paid the price for our freedom. Psalm 119:105 tells us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The word of God (His communication with us) will light our path so we won’t fall away. It will enlighten our hearts and minds to truth.
Even though we accept freedom, Satan will try to talk us out of it, saying we are now ensnared by God. But the truth is that Jesus does not force anyone to follow Him. If you read the story of the rich, young ruler, you can see that Jesus was sorrowful when the young man turned away and chose not to follow Him. But Jesus did not force him to come. Nor did He change the conditions for following Him just to suit the young man’s desire. Satan will also tell you that now you have to follow a bunch of rules and life won’t have any joy. But the truth is that in the presence of God we will find fullness of joy. Following Jesus’ commandments will bring us much joy. They are life to us. Satan tries to divert us from the light (truth) to his dark path. He succeeded in doing that with Adam and Eve, but their choice does not have to be your choice.
Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:31-32, 34-36 NKJV)
            We can be sons and daughters in the household of our heavenly Father or we can be slaves under the dominion of the devil. The kingdom of God is where the Spirit of God is, and sin cannot enter there. We can live in that place spiritually right now. Yes, we are still in this world, but we can have freedom in Christ now. We don’t have to live under oppression and a death sentence. If we live in union with Christ, we are living in the presence of God. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [emancipation from bondage, true freedom].” (2 Corinthians 3:17 Amplified) So, in Christ we have freedom, light and fullness of joy. But there is more.
                Romans 8:1 tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” We are free to walk in freedom as the Spirit within us directs us to the right paths. Our death sentence has been overturned. We are no longer captives, but free to hear God’s voice.
            God is a communicator with His creation. In many places in the Old Testament, we see God speaking to men and women and drawing them into His plans. We see Jesus in the Old Testament appearing as the Angel of the Lord and communicating with people. God has even given us a written copy of His Word as He spoke and inspired men to write. Then in the New Testament, we see Jesus coming to be one of us, laying aside His glory and living among us. Why would He do that? The Scripture is clear about why Jesus came.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17 NKJV)
He came so we wouldn’t have to live as captives on this earth and then live in hell with Satan for eternity. He came to offer us spiritual life and freedom now, and a home in heaven with Jesus for eternity. It overwhelms the mind, I know. But that is the truth.
            Jesus said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)  He came to provide a means for us to have that life instead of condemnation. If we truly believe Him, we will follow Him and keep His commandments.
            If you are rationalizing all this and have come up with the idea that you don’t deserve that chance for freedom, you are right. None of us do. But Jesus loves us anyway, so He gave His life for ours. When you look at this scripture verse in Romans 5:6-8, you will see that you haven’t done anything that will make you exempt from the offer Jesus makes.
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The people in this world may tell you that you are too bad to qualify to be saved and set free, that you deserve to be held captive in a cage. But they are wrong. Jesus died for all of us when we were ungodly, without strength to save ourselves and were sinners to the core. Sinners commit sins. They commit terrible sins. But Jesus paid the price for that and the offer still stands.
Look at this verse from Isaiah 1:18-19. “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land.” That is an invitation from God Himself. He is communicating with you right now. Don’t ignore Him or wait until another time. Accept Him today. You can be set free from living the life of a captive in a cage. You can be free to live in the kingdom of God now. For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, freedom! Spread your wings and fly!


Thursday, April 2, 2020

RELEASE THROUGH REPENTANCE



            There are many times in our lives when we face an ongoing problem. When we are finally released from its hold, what a relief it is! Sometimes the problems are our own fault, and we have to do whatever is necessary to work our way through the self-inflicted consequences to freedom. Whether it is credit card debt or a prison sentence, release is a joyous occasion.
            The people of Israel found themselves in captivity because they had rebelled against God for many years. God had warned them over and over through the prophets, but they wouldn’t listen to the warnings. So, God finally brought the punishment He had told them would come. God allowed Israel to be taken captive into Babylon. Jeremiah was one of the prophets God used to warn the people. He had prophesied their captivity and the time they would finally return to Jerusalem. Another prophet, Daniel, read Jeremiah’s prophecy and determined the times God had set. He realized it was time for their release. Daniel was one of those captives that had spent the last 70 years in Babylon. Hope rose up in him as he realized the captivity of Israel would soon come to an end.
            So, Daniel began to pray. He knew God had already ordered the time of their release, yet he prayed a prayer of repentance and invoked the mercy of God. There had been no confession and repentance on the part of the people in exile, and Daniel was setting into motion the fulfillment of Scripture through his prayer. Before release, there must be repentance.
There are times when the enemy attacks and we must withstand him in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are times God allows the enemy to attack because we have removed ourselves from under His covering. Then we must repent and return to our God to be released.
Daniel prayed “we have sinned and committed wrong, and have behaved wickedly and have rebelled, turning away from Your commandments and ordinances. Further, we have not listened to and heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” All of Israel had heard God’s warnings, but they continued in their rebellion. They heard but didn’t repent.
Daniel’s prayer continued like this, “Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this tragedy has come on us. Yet we have not wholeheartedly begged for forgiveness and sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our wickedness and paying attention to and placing value in Your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept the tragedy ready and has brought it on us, for the Lord our God is [uncompromisingly] righteous and openly just in all His works which He does - He keeps His word; and we have not obeyed His voice.”
If we want to see release in our lives, our homes, our churches, our nation, we need to cry out to God in repentance. Daniel realized the reason they had gone into captivity was because of their sin. God didn’t punish them unjustly. Actually the longsuffering of God had been more than gracious. But before they could leave Babylon and return to their homeland, there had to be repentance for the sins that brought God’s chastisement on them.
There is a scripture promising good from the Lord that I hear often. It speaks of God’s good intentions toward us, and is a solid verse showing His mercy and love. But we can see a greater extent of this love when we read it in context with the verses above and below it. God loves us so much that He will punish us to turn us back to righteousness. Listen to what Jeremiah prophesied concerning the captivity and the release of God’s people. “For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.” (29:10-14)
God’s people had no future of peace and hope in the direction they had taken. He had to turn them, and they had not listened to His warnings through the prophets, so He brought them to a place of chastening because of His great love for them. He will do the same for us, and it is a good thing. It is to keep us from moving outside the realm of God’s kingdom. God’s punishment is not for our destruction. It serves to restore us into the right path and a right relationship with God.
“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:7-9)
If a child will listen to a warning, the punishment will not come. If they refuse the warning, the punishment will be severe. Punishment causes us to see sin for what it is. It serves to turn us from that deadly poison to that which is beneficial for us. Maybe your relationship with Jesus is weak and cluttered with worldly pursuits and you have felt the tug of God’s Spirit to come closer. He is warning you of the dangers ahead. If you hear and obey, you will avoid the consequences and pitfalls ahead.
We also need to pray for our families, our cities, states, nations and world. God wants to release us to walk in the power of His kingdom, but disobedience can keep us from it. Repentance is the only way for release.
2 Chronicles 7:14 tells of the mercy of God to restore us when we come to Him in repentance. God clearly shows us how to return to Him and to have His favor restored. He shows us our part and His part.
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Instead of reading it quickly, let’s digest each part and see what God requires of us so we can receive what He promised.
Step 1 – “IF My people who are called by My name” - God’s people are required to repent when they sin. He doesn’t say the people of the world. He says “My people”. There are times when the Church needs to repent for laying aside the Word of God to suit our culture, for putting our love of the world above our love for God and the souls of the unsaved, for failing to speak the truth from our pulpits and in our homes, for disregarding the teachings of Jesus because they are uncomfortable for us, for putting ourselves on a pedestal to receive the glory that belongs to God alone.
Step 2 – “Humble themselves.” We are to openly and truthfully confess our sins and surrender completely to God’s Word and the leading of His Holy Spirit. Confessing is humbling, but where sin is concerned, it is necessary.
Step 3 – “Pray” – talk to God and listen to what He has to say to us. Stay connected to Him with a close relationship and act on what He speaks to us during those times.
Step 4 – “Seek My face” - Instead of seeking pleasure, the applause of men and all the things this world has to offer, seek the Living God Who alone can give us what will fill the void in our hearts. Continually seek to know Him more intimately through His Word and His Spirit. Seek out the presence and purpose of God.
Step 5 – “Turn from their wicked ways” – Turn away from every act, thought and motive that dishonors God, and set our hearts to please God and to bring Him glory through our lives.
When we follow those steps toward God, He will hear our prayers. Proverbs 15:29 tells us “The Lord is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous.” “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” (James 4:8) God also said He will forgive our sins and He will heal our land. There is power in repentance. There is release into the favor of God!
What rejoicing there was on the journey home to Jerusalem after 70 years in captivity! All because God was faithful to turn them from their sin! We can know that joy, too.

Release is a joyous occasion!

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 30:11-12

Sunday, March 22, 2020

THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT



I recently read a book written by my cousin, Delron Shirley. It is entitled, “Don’t Leave Home Without It”. The title refers to Jesus’ command for the disciples to go and preach the gospel to all nations, but to wait until they received the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, He appeared to His disciples, showed them the wounds in His hands and feet and even ate fish and honeycomb so they would believe it was really Him. He explained how the law, prophets and the psalms all spoke of Him. Then he said, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.
Just before He ascended, Jesus told them again, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And they became those witnesses because they obeyed Jesus instructions to wait for the Holy Spirit to come.
Jesus told them to wait so they would not go out in their own wisdom, strength and ability, or in their own zeal. Sometimes our zeal can do more damage than good. Before the Holy Spirit was given, Peter’s zeal caused him to boast that he would not forsake Jesus, but his strength flagged and he denied Jesus. In their zeal, James and John had wanted to call down fire to destroy the Samaritans who would not receive Jesus into their territory. Jesus rebuked them. They needed zeal, but they needed the zeal of the Lord of hosts Who perfectly performs everything He has purposed. He will get the job done. Jesus knew they needed the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord, the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Without Him, they would fail.
Jesus had spoken to them earlier about rivers of living water. “ In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
Jesus had also taught the disciples that the Holy Spirit would be a  Comforter Who would come alongside them just as Jesus had done for 3 ½ years. This Comforter or Helper would stay with each one of them always. He would be with them individually wherever they went.
Just as Jesus had been with the disciples to lead them in the right direction and set their course, the Holy Spirit would lead them. Just as He had taught them, the Holy Spirit would teach them. And He would bring to their remembrance the things Jesus had taught them.
The Holy Spirit would also give them miracle-working power, just as Jesus had when He was with them in the flesh. And the Spirit would make all the difference in the preaching of the Word, because He would make the Word alive in their hearts. Then their communication of His Word would have power and life for the hearers. People would be drawn by the Spirit of God and not the wisdom of man.
After they had waited for the Spirit in Jerusalem as Jesus had told them to do, the Spirit descended upon them in a mighty way. He came with the sound of a rushing mighty wind, and tongues of fire sat on each one. Of course, God had chosen just the right time. Jerusalem was crowded with people from many nations who were there to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. The disciples were enabled by this outpouring of the Holy Spirit to speak in the languages of all those present. Every language group heard them speak in their own language “the wonderful works of God”. Then Peter, who through fear had denied Jesus, stood up boldly and preached a powerful sermon that ended with 3,000 people believing in Jesus, receiving the gospel message, and being baptized.
The Holy Spirit will do everything for His disciples today that was promised to those first disciples. We can have the Holy Spirit operating in us and through us as rivers of living water. We all need to go and be His witnesses, but first we need the Holy Spirit. We need the guidance, power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit actively working in us and through us.
We won’t accomplish much without Him, but with Him, we can do exploits. Daniel 11:32 says, “but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” How can we be one of those people who know their God? We can know Him through the Holy Spirit living in us!
Great exploits are highly significant deeds and accomplishments that are considerable in power or number. It also includes being able to stand and take action in resisting evil and ungodliness.
Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” (John 14:12) Because of the Spirit of God in His children, we can accomplish more in outreach. We can cover more territory with the same power, just like the disciples did when they scattered abroad. Read through the book of Acts and see what God will do through those who are surrendered to and controlled by the Holy Spirit.
The question is do you want to be normal with a wishy-washy relationship with God? Or do you want to really know Him? Do you want Him to work through you with mighty acts and His living, powerful Word? If we want to accomplish anything of eternal value, we must have the Holy Spirit. Without Him we can do nothing of lasting value.
The Holy Spirit leads us one step at a time, so where He leads may seem illogical to our human reasoning. But, if we follow the first step, we will see the second step more clearly and will eventually see the wisdom of His guidance. It takes faith to follow when it seems there is no reason to it. But the Spirit of God is much wiser than our human understanding. We can depend on Him to be right 100% of the time. Trust Him above all human wisdom.
Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit will reveal to our reborn spirits things that our natural mind cannot understand. He reveals to us the wisdom of God, spiritual things that cannot be understood with human reasoning. He is there to give us whatever we need.
When the disciples were discouraged, Jesus encouraged them. When they didn’t understand, He taught them. When they put emphasis on the wrong things (like who would be greatest), He corrected them. When they were afraid, He rebuked their lack of faith…and calmed the storm. When they didn’t know which way to go, He led them.
The Holy Spirit will do the same for you! So, when you are discouraged, go to Him. When you don’t understand, learn from Him. When He corrects you, receive it and grow from it. When storms come your way, have faith that He will bring you out. When you don’t know which way to go, follow Him.
You can receive the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to have a degree or go to a certain place. You don’t have to go wait in Jerusalem. You can receive the Spirit wherever you are and start from there.
Jesus said, “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
Why not ask right now? Just surrender your life to Jesus and say, “I want to be controlled and led by the Holy Spirit.” Then begin working alongside Him!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

BELIEVE AND OBEY




            There is an overarching theme throughout the Bible. Good vs. Evil. Blessing vs. Cursing. Life vs. Death. Light vs. Darkness. This theme came into view clearly all the way back to the Garden of Eden when sin entered a perfect world.
            God called this world and its inhabitants into existence, and He blessed it all. In Genesis we read that God saw that the light He called into being was good and He separated the light from darkness. Each day of creation brought new forms of life, and God saw that they were good.
            Then, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them…And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” There was no sin in the garden then. Everything was pleasnt and had the blessing of God on it.
            To be blessed means to have the favor of God. If something is good, it is pleasing, useful, pure and beneficial. All of creation was good, and God’s favor rested on it. God came and walked with Adam and Eve in the evenings and they communicated freely.
            Through the willful act of mankind – Adam and Eve – sin was invited into this perfect world. It was not God’s will. He had a good purpose for this perfectly formed world and His people. But because of this act of rebellion, He could no longer extend his favor. Sin is a curse, and Adam and Eve took upon themselves a curse rather than the blessing they had. They traded light, goodness and life for darkness, evil and death. The line was drawn between good and evil. And Adam and Eve found themselves on the outside. They no longer walked and talked with God in the cool of the evenings. They no longer had peace and goodness surrounding them, because sin separates us from God. And they felt the heavy weight of that sin. The entrance of sin into the garden brought condemnation with it, because sin is rebellion against God.
God’s blessing was removed as mankind stepped into enemy territory and outside the favor of God. When we choose our own way instead of God’s way, we step out from under His blessing. It’s like stepping out from under an umbrella on a stormy day and getting saturated by the environment. Because of sin, this world will be destroyed, and our bodies will be destroyed in death. All of creation fell under the curse of sin, and even now it groans for release from the curse.
            A cursed people are condemned to destruction. But even in this condition, there were those who through faith and obedience were blessed by God. They separated themselves from the evil of their day and believed God.
            Scripture tells us that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.  “These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:8-9) Noah had a relationship with God. He wasn’t just acknowledging that God existed, but knew Him personally. “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. (Hebrews 11:7) Noah didn’t defile himself by following the pattern of his culture. Instead, he listened to what God told him to do. He obeyed God because He was certain he could trust God. That is real belief.
            Hebrews 11 tells us about Enoch. “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” How did Enoch please God? By faith and obedience. We cannot please God without faith (trust, believing). And if we really believe Him, we will do what He says. Enoch’s relationship with God caused him to trust God implicitly. Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” 
In Hebrews 11:23, we see the faith of Moses’ parents. “By faith Moses, after his birth, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful and divinely favored child; and they were not afraid of the king’s (Pharaoh’s) decree.” The faith of Moses’ parents saved his life and put him in a position to be God’s instrument. Then the faith of Moses took him through the rest of his journey with God. “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, because he preferred to endure the hardship of the people of God rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of the Christ [that is, the rebuke he would suffer for his faithful obedience to God] to be greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt; for he looked ahead to the reward [promised by God].”     
Then there is Abraham. We read part of his story in Genesis 15. “And He [God] brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Abraham believed God, and acted on what God told him. So, God raised up a nation through Abraham, a physical nation and a spiritual nation.  
            What do all these men have in common? They believed God. They believed enough to walk with Him and to obey His commandments even in cultures that mocked Him. They believed what God told them and staked their life on it. They put themselves in a position to know God personally and to receive His blessing by believing and obeying. God called and they answered. They committed themselves to wholly follow the Lord.
            And through the descendants of Abraham, a Savior was born to take our sin on Himself, so we could be free and righteous. Amazingly, this Savior is the Son of God. Even more amazing is the fact that the pure, sinless Son of God became sin, became a curse, for us. He took our punishment and our curse so we can be holy and righteous through Him. “He made Christ who knew no sin to [judicially] be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God [that is, we would be made acceptable to Him and placed in a right relationship with Him by His gracious lovingkindness].” (2 Corinthians 5:21 Amplified) And “Christ purchased our freedom and redeemed us from the curse of the Law and its condemnation by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs [crucified] on a tree (cross)”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might also come to the Gentiles, so that we would all receive [the realization of] the promise of the [Holy] Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:13-14 Amplified)
            How do we receive that righteousness? We must repent (be sorry for and turn away from) our sins and believe Jesus enough to surrender the whole of who we are to Him. We must believe and obey. To those who accept this gift of salvation and accept Jesus’ rule in their lives, He gives the authority and the right to be children of God. The curse is removed and the blessing of God will rest upon us. Our unrighteousness that kept us from the presence of God will give way to an open door of fellowship with Him as we take on the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Although we still live in a world that is under a curse and in a culture of millions who have not come under the blessing of God, we can be assured that there is coming a day when all creation and the children of God will be back in an environment of God’s blessing in the kingdom of God. Romans 8:21-23 says, “the creation itself will also be freed from its bondage to decay [and gain entrance] into the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been moaning together as in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only this, but we too, who have the first fruits of the Spirit [a joyful indication of the blessings to come], even we groan inwardly, as we wait eagerly for [the sign of] our adoption as sons—the redemption and transformation of our body [at the resurrection].” (Amplified Bible)
Jesus came to redeem us from the curse and restore our relationship with God. John 3:17 tells us, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
We don’t have to live under an eternal death sentence because Jesus has paid the price for us to be transformed into His image. We can choose goodness, life, light, and blessing.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (vanished), and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, arrayed like a bride adorned for her husband; and then I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “See! The tabernacle of God is among men, and He will live among them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them [as their God,] and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be death; there will no longer be sorrow and anguish, or crying, or pain; for the former order of things has passed away.”” Revelation 21:1-4


Friday, January 31, 2020

THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY




            The Scripture speaks of the mystery of the kingdom of God, the mystery of Christ, the mystery of the gospel and the mystery of godliness. These mysteries are revealed in Jesus Christ. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” (1Timothy 3:16) And Jesus will return again. His second coming was proclaimed by an angel when He ascended up into heaven.
But there is another mystery that will be revealed before Jesus’ second coming. The mystery of iniquity will be revealed by the coming of an imposter who will claim to bring world peace. He is called in Scripture the son of perdition because he has allowed Satan to fill him. (Jesus called Judas by that same name because Satan had filled Judas’ heart.) Many will follow this deceiver, and, while promising peace, he will lead them into eternal destruction. Satan always seems to have an evil counterfeit for the good gifts God has given us. Many people will be taken in by this counterfeit peace that will be offered to the world. And it may seem for a short while that peace has come, but it will be suddenly replaced by a hostile, demonic takeover by the forces of evil. We know this deceiver as the antichrist. He is opposed to all that Christ is because he is filled with the spirit of the devil. His power and wisdom come from the devil, and he is sold out, fully committed to do the work of Satan. Second Thessalonians 2 warns us about him and his spirit that is already at work among us.
“Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day [the Day of Christ] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.”
            Paul warns the believers in Thessalonica to be careful so they will not be deceived with the spirit of antichrist that is already at work among us. That man of sin has not been revealed yet, but we can already see the lawlessness that is in the world. Be careful that it does not creep into your heart, turning you away from Jesus. Paul’s warning is important for us to hear. It is easy to let down our guard and begin to receive doctrines that seem okay, but actually lead us astray from God’s Word. The lack of power among God’s people and the lack of urgency for evangelization shows a lack of being filled with God’s Spirit and His Word. It is imperative that we don’t become lax in our relationship with Jesus in these last days.
There is a short chapter in the book of Psalms that can help us stay full of the Spirit and the Word of God. It is the very first psalm in the book.
Blessed [fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God] is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked [following their advice and example], Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit [down to rest] in the seat of scoffers (ridiculers). But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And on His law [His precepts and teachings] he [habitually] meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted [and fed] by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season; Its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers [and comes to maturity].
(Psalm 1:1-3 Amplified Bible)
This chapter may be short, but it gives us some of the greatest information we can have. It outlines the two basic choices for life and the consequences of both. Although it is concise, it breaks down the components enough that we understand how to wisely incorporate this wisdom into our lives. We can choose to be blessed or cursed. We can choose life or death. But as we go on reading in this psalm we see the things that lead us in each direction.
The first part lets us know there are two counselors. We can take counsel from God’s Word or from the ungodly. But we need to differentiate between those voices. There are many voices offering advice and opinions. Social media is full of voices that claim to know the truth. How can we know the difference between God’s counsel and ungodly counsel? This passage of Scripture tells us the one who does not take ungodly counsel is the one who finds delight in the Word of God. They read it, meditate on it and apply it to their lives. Those are people who are walking in the will and counsel of God. When you are full of God’s Word, it is easier to recognize deception. Being full of His Spirit gives us the discernment we need.
Don’t take the word of others who say they know what the Scripture says. Go to the Scripture for yourself. Ask God to show you the meaning and how to walk it out in your daily living. Beware of the counsel of the ungodly. The ungodly have advice that might seem good on the surface, but it is not God’s counsel.
The ungodly will tell us to “look out for #1” (meaning ourselves). “Always do what will give you the best advantage.” But God’s Word tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and to do to others what we want them to do to us. In other words, we are to be looking out for the good of others.
If someone wrongs us, the ungodly will tell us to get even with them and make them pay for what they have done. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44) In other words, let God handle it. Many people consider anything less than standing up for our rights is showing weakness in us. But when we are weak, the strength of God will be seen more clearly working through us. Our part is to do good to others and pray for them. That is a choice. We have a wise, strong, powerful, all-knowing Counselor in Jesus Christ. Isaiah 9:6 speaks of Christ like this: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. We can depend on His counsel every time.
There are also two ways or paths. There is the way of the sinners. But Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life No one comes to the Father except through Me.” It may seem easier to walk in the way of sinners, but the end is destruction. It may be difficult to live in the kingdom of God while we are in this world, because they are two opposing kingdoms. But following Jesus will lead to life. Jesus is the only way to the Father, the only way to heaven. When this earth has passed away, the kingdom of God will stand strong. Which kingdom will we be in? That depends on which path we take.
There are also two choices. We can scoff at Jesus and His teachings, or we can choose to be His disciples and follow Him. When Jesus hung on the cross, He hung between two thieves. Both were dying for crimes they had committed. Jesus had done nothing wrong, yet He was dying for their sins, your sins, my sins. One thief believed in Christ and asked to be remembered in His kingdom. That thief followed Jesus into paradise that very day. The other thief had the same opportunity, but he chose to be among the mockers of Christ. His punishment removed him from this world to face eternal punishment without Christ. It is so much better to follow the counsel of God’s Word, to walk the path where He leads us, and to make the choice to surrender to Him.
The last three verses of Psalm 1 clarify the consequences of those who choose the counsel of the ungodly, the way of sinners and the seat of the scornful. And it reinforces the blessings of those who choose God’s counsel, God’s way and following Christ. It says, “The wicked [those who live in disobedience to God’s law] are not so” [not fruitful and prospering], “But they are like the chaff [worthless and without substance] which the wind blows away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand [unpunished] in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows and fully approves the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked shall perish.” (Amplified Bible)
 The way of the ungodly can have a strong pull, but our God is able to keep us. Beware of the spirit of antichrist that is already at work in this world. It is a lawless spirit, a deceiving, Godless spirit. Make sure you stay close to God in His kingdom. Study His Word and allow His Spirit to lead you. If you do, you will prosper even in the face of the turbulent evil of this world. Keep your heart clean and do not forsake meeting together with other believers who can build you up and encourage you.
 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14 NKJV)


Friday, December 20, 2019

THE MYSTERY REVEALED



One of the most wide-spread traditions we all have at Christmas is buying presents for others and keeping them secret until just the right time. I buy gifts year-round in anticipation of Christmas coming. When the time is right, I give them to the recipient and they unwrap them to reveal what I have chosen for them.  I always hope they will like what I gave them.
God gave the greatest gift ever given on that first Christmas when “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Sometimes we take that for granted. But our Messiah Redeemer was expected for many years before the time was right for the plan of God to be revealed.
Many of us read the Christmas story from Luke 2 that tells of the angels appearing to the shepherds and proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth. Verse 15 says, “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us.”
This “thing that had come to pass” wasn’t something the shepherds took lightly. Watching and waiting for the Messiah was the focal point for every Jew. For hundreds of years, all of Israel had been waiting for the promised Messiah, longing for that day to arrive. The prophets during those times would receive pieces of the puzzle of God’s mystery. God showed various aspects of the Messiah to prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Hosea and others. There are also many prophetic scriptures in the Psalms.
God chose not to unwrap the whole mystery to the prophets, but gave pieces of information, a little here and a little there. These pieces were to help identify Him when He was revealed. But the puzzle still remained unfinished. It remained a great mystery.
Numerous prophecies were given down through the years. It was prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, He would suffer and be pierced, He would be born of a virgin, He would minister in Galilee, He would be preceded by a forerunner, and that He would ultimately be rejected by His own people.
But, in the fullness of time when God’s plan unfolded, it was breath-taking and astounding! No one could have imagined that God Himself would come down from heaven and live among us. No one would have ever thought that He would become a human Baby, be born in a stable and be laid in a manger. Yet, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” God chose to reveal the mystery of the ages through Jesus Christ. There is no glory like the glory of Jesus! And yet He came to show us His glory and make His glory to shine through all who would receive Him. John 1 tells us that to those who would receive Him, He gave power to become the sons of God. His power, not ours.
He spoke to Mary and Joseph through an angel, to the wise men by a star, to the shepherds through a heavenly host saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will to men!” He speaks to us today by His Spirit. He may use a message, a song or His written Word to speak to us, but it is His Spirit that reveals it to our soul. He will reveal Himself to you today, too, if you seek after Him.
Many think they are too young or too old or too unworthy. But as long as we live, we are never too young or too old to surrender our lives to Jesus. And no matter our status in this world, Jesus will reveal Himself to us personally if we seek Him. Kings bowed before Him. Lowly shepherds did, too! He revealed Himself to them both.
Now, we have the full revelation of God’s plan for our salvation. So what are we going to do about it? We need to be like the shepherds and go tell everyone so they can know Him too. The shepherds wasted no time in making this gift known to others. They eagerly received the message, acted on it and shared it. We have been given that same gift, that same revelation of Jesus Christ. Have we received Him? Have we passed on this gift to others? It’s the best gift to give and receive.
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith - to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” Romans 16:25-28



Monday, November 18, 2019

SET APART



             Many of the things that happened under the Old Covenant were types and shadows of what would come under the New Covenant. One of those types was the institution of priests who would hear from God and then instruct the people in God’s commandments and principles. God called out the tribe of Levi and set them apart unto Him. They were to hear from God and speak His words to the people. They were to live according to God’s law and hold up an example of holiness so the people could see what these laws looked like being walked out in daily living.
            And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.(Ezekiel 44:23) But, little by little, God’s priests stopped teaching God’s word and stopped being examples of His holiness. In so doing, they led many astray and turned them from God. Yet, it didn’t change anything about God’s Word.   It changed the people’s relationship with Him. God said, “Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy (sacred) and the profane (secular), they have not taught [people] the difference between the unclean and the clean...” (Ezekiel 22:26 Amplified) The prophet Malachi gave these words from God to the people. For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 2:7-8)
            The people stopped serving God because the priests were unfaithful. The priests broke their covenant with God and taught the people to do the same. They condoned what God condemned. They were speaking their own words and attributing them to God, but they were not God’s words. They were eventually judged and punished for their disobedience after God had given them numerous warnings to come back to Him.
We may think that has nothing to do with us, but it actually has a lot to do with those who belong to Christ. Revelation 1:5-6 says, “Unto him [Jesus Christ] that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” We have been made priests by Jesus Christ, our High Priest. We have been set apart unto Him, not unto our own wisdom or agenda, but unto Him. Jesus instituted our priesthood under the New Covenant. 1 Peter 2:5, 9 and 10 says, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. 
If we are walking in the light and are true Christians, then we are called as priests unto God. We have the same mandate as the Old Covenant priests. Jesus commissioned all His followers in Matthew 28:19-20. “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
            The early disciples heard God’s Word from Jesus and were commissioned to tell it to the people. They followed Jesus’ commandments and lived in obedience to Jesus’ principles. And they had the power of God with them. The early priests had followed God’s laws and principles, too, at first. But somewhere along the line they compromised and stopped speaking truth to the people and stopped holding God up as holy by their own holy lifestyles. So have we. It seems most members in Christian churches have stopped seeking to hear from God. They have stopped living in the righteousness provided by Jesus, and have lost the authority of His Word and power of His Spirit.
            This generation has compromised the truth and is leading people astray, because there is no longer a clear distinction between the holy and the profane. Yet, God has not changed His principles. It simply changes the people’s relationship with God. A lack of knowledge of God’s Word will condemn the guilty. Knowledge of His Word will warn the guilty and allow them to make a choice of whether or not they will accept the conditions of the New Covenant. Jesus’ gospel is the only way to eternal life.
Every Christian has the responsibility of living God’s Word and being a testimony of His saving power. We also have a mandate to spread the gospel to others. The power of God was with the early disciples because they were carrying out Jesus command to “go”. Without the faithfulness of God’s people to hold the Word out as a guiding light, this world has no compass as a reference point to help them find their way. Many have no knowledge of Jesus and no direction in life. They remain lost because we have ceased to make God’s Word clear by our words and example. So, what can we do to change that?
            God said, “Yet from the days of your fathers you have turned away from My statues and ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’”
            We can return to Him. We can go back to the place where we stopped following God and His Word. We might need to ask some hard questions. Are we more in line with what the world says, or with what the Bible says? Do we know the difference, or have we allowed ourselves to confuse the two because of politically correct protocol? Do we act like Jesus? Do we think like Jesus? Are His priorities our priorities? What are we spending more time on than we are with God? Instead of adjusting to the world’s climate, we need to search the Scripture and follow what God says. Don’t depend on your memory of what the Bible says. Go directly to the Word. Look at the issues in our society and search them out in the Scripture. What does God say about these issues?  Some of the recent topics are abortion and same-sex marriages. If you want to know what God says, it’s in the Bible. God also has a lot to say about anger, bitterness, adultery, vengeance and envy. Once we know what God says, we have to decide whether to go His way or not. If we want to follow God and we pick up the Bible to guide us, I believe we will find that we need to make major changes in our lives. Some may seem severe, but that is only a reflection of how far we have departed from His Word. We need to return to living a separated life unto God, holding up the holiness of God in our daily living.
            I am sometimes amazed at what people believe about God, heaven, hell, salvation and what it means to be a Christian. It is so far from what the Bible teaches. It seems most people think acts of kindness and acknowledging that God is real secures us a place in heaven, and that’s all that really counts. This kind of belief is dangerous because it gives a false hope and false sense of security that keeps people from entering God’s kingdom. Where do they get these ideas? Maybe from priests who no longer hear from God. Somehow the true gospel has ceased to be taught in many churches and homes. So we have failed people who think they are okay and on their way to heaven.
It is a counterfeit gospel that promotes a god who accepts everyone into his kingdom because he is good. God IS good and He will accept those who come to Him in repentance from sin and who move forward into a new life following Christ’s teachings and example. But He will not accept sin. Those who continue in sin will not inherit the kingdom of God. If He accepts sin in His kingdom, there was no need for Jesus to die for us to remove our sins. True repentance doesn’t just thank God for forgiveness and continue in sin. Those who truly repent walk according to the Word of God. Jesus makes us a whole new creation and changes who we are inside. Because of the inner change, the outward changes, too. It is not a matter of following the law. It is a matter of having the law of God in our hearts and the power of His Spirit empowering us to live as a changed person. Those truths are becoming more and more foreign among us. Even in Christian circles, those who follow the Word of God are considered strange. How sad that we are so far removed from God’s principles and His power! And yet, we proclaim to be His followers. What a confusing message we are sending this world. And we are deceiving ourselves.
While we cannot force people into the kingdom of God, we can give them the truth of the gospel so they can make their decision with a knowledge of the consequences of sin and of what Jesus has done to save us from those consequences. The message of the gospel is a light to lead us to truth and freedom. We are to share it in its purity with others. We don’t need to start a crusade against evil as much as we need to speak and live the truth plainly. But we need to speak the truth out of love and with compassion to draw in the lost, not with condemnation and vengeance against them. God’s priests had stopped making a clear distinction between truth and error, righteousness and unrighteousness. Let’s not make the same mistake.

What kind of priests are we?

Faithful? Or Unfaithful?

Are we speaking truth?