Starting The Process Of Forgiveness

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Let’s recap! And then, once we’ve gone over what we’ve done so far, we’re going to get really serious about starting this process of forgiveness. Welcome to Day Sixteen of 30 Days to Forgiveness!

We’ve talked about making the decision to forgive, and you know that it’s a process that can take some time.

Now that you understand the basics, it's time to start the process of forgiveness

You know how important it is, and hopefully you understand that you need some help to get through this. It’s going to be difficult and painful, and you will need prayer as well as the support of loved ones or a trained counselor.

You have accepted that you need to feel the pain and acknowledge the anger, and this is the moment when the forgives process starts. No more stewing and vague mutterings that reflect a hidden core of hurt that is affecting your life.

You are worth more than that and, while maybe you don’t really know it deeply, you’re starting to accept it.

You, my friend, are a child of God, and Christ died for you.

You are worth too much to let your life be consumed by these unhealthy grudges.

You have decided that you don’t have room in your life for that pain and anger. They are holding you back from experiencing the fullness of your life – as a parent, friend, spouse and yes, as a Christian! The negative, nasty feelings have to go so that you have room for more joy and happiness.

What an amazing place you’re at right now.

Just stop for a moment and realize how far you’ve come and how wonderful this is. Angels are dancing in Heaven at the spiritual growth that you’re showing, rejoicing that you are letting go of the things that block you from joy.

Don’t scoff – I am positive that there is a party in heavenly places when we grow like this.

What’s next?

Well, as I said before, even when we decide to lay our burdens at the Cross, we have a really bad habit of sneaking back and picking them up. We are certainly creatures of habit, but the good news is that we can craft new habits. (Hey, I wrote a post on creating new habits)

Of course crafting new habits, building new thought patterns, takes time, and that’s why I’m taking such a very long time to focus on forgiveness.

Your job going forward is to focus on leaving that burden of shame and guilt, pain and anger, right where it belongs. You haven’t done a very good job of dealing with up to this point, have you?

So it’s time to leave it at the Cross and move on. I am giving you a plan, a blueprint if you will, for changing your old thoughts and behaviors, and there are plenty of action tips along the way, but you and you alone are responsible for putting them into action.

Sit for a moment and think about what it takes to keep you going, to help you remember to stick it out and forgive every day?

Some options I like are:

Daily affirmations and Bible verses (my readers know I love affirmations!)

Prayer (which includes meditative prayer)

Journaling

Speaking to a priest or pastor

Sessions with a trained therapist

Reading books about forgiveness and love

While this is a journey you need to make on your own, you aren’t really alone. Your loved ones want you to feel peaceful and happy, so be sure to talk with them and ask them to become part of your support system.

It’s important to realize that you’re not alone on this journey.

Your loved ones want you to feel better and increase your happiness. Talk to them about this challenge and what you’re doing. I’m sure they will gladly become an integral part of your support system.

If you want some extra support, leave a comment down below – be sure to tag me @justplainmarie and select the ‘Also post to Facebook’ option.

Check in daily to remind yourself to continue to work on forgiveness. Share your struggles and your successes. We are a friendly bunch and always happy to cheer you on and help you along in any way we can.

Now that you understand the basics, it's time to start the process of forgiveness

Face the Pain to Let Go

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Did I tell you that forgiving yourself was the hardest part? Perhaps I wasn’t completely truthful. But if I had told you that the hard work was just starting, you would have been scared off too early in the process.

Today we’re going to tackle one of the hardest parts. Gird your loins and get ready. Welcome to Day Fifteen of 30 Days to Forgiveness!

It is important to face our pain and hurts and fully understand what we must forgive before we can continue on the journey.

Forgiveness is about letting go of the anger and pain associated with a wrong so that you can move on with your life.

Right?

Hopefully you’re nodding right now and saying that we’ve already established that multiple times. I only repeat these things because I really want you to understand them.

So we have to let go of the anger and pain associate with the wrong.

That means facing the hurt, facing the pain and anger, and really accepting it. Are you ready?

No?

It’s okay. This is going to be hard, but it’s absolutely necessary. If you don’t know exactly what you’re facing and have just a vague idea that you’re kind of sort of mad at someone but you don’t really remember why … well, you’re not going to get very far, are you?

If you just have a vague feeling about what you’re upset about, your attempt at forgiveness is going to be vague, too, and you’ll just be wasting your time.

Your challenge today is to sit down in a quiet place, think about what happened and let it all in.

Easy?

No, not easy.

Let me strongly recommend that you spend some serious time in prayer before doing this, because it’s not going to be easy at all. Our default reaction is to push it to the back of our minds, to avoid really thinking about what happened and not really deal with it. We let it simmer and stew, affecting every aspect of our lives, but we never pull it out into the light, look at it honestly and objectively and deal with it.

How’s that been working for you?

If writing helps, do that, either on paper or on the computer, but get it out there. Be honest with yourself. Be detailed. Pay attention to how you feel as you get it all out. Feel all the feels.

And now realize something. What you’re feeling now is the worst of it.

This is as bad as it’s going to get.

From here on, the healing begins and you will come out of this experience stronger and happier than before.

You are in charge here, and that’s what makes this such a powerful experience. That’s why I spent so much time making it clear that you have choices and that you are in control.

Confront the pain and then choose the path of forgiveness. You are choosing to NOT let the anger and pain control you anymore. The choices you are now making will mean that your choices, your actions, your feelings and everything else that makes up your life is no longer shaded by that pain you’ve been nursing.

You are facing the pain and actively working your way through it. That’s powerful.

But, hey, even though YOU are in charge, please don’t try to do this on your own. From personal experience, I can tell you that this takes a great deal of private prayer time as well as long discussions with trusted loved ones. Talk to a friend, a close family member or a professional counselor. You want someone who will be honest and kind, someone who knows what you are working through and won’t let you get away with lying to yourself.

If you need to, confront the person who has done you wrong, but please do so cautiously and with the understanding that it might not work out the way you expect. In fact, it’s more likely to backfire than lead to the results you want.

Writing it all down is useful, especially if you imagine yourself writing to the person that hurt you. Scream, yell and let it all out – in a safe place, of course. It feels a lot better to release the pain than to hang on to it.

It is important to face our pain and hurts and fully understand what we must forgive before we can continue on the journey.

Matthew 16:19

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 I will give you the keys (authority) of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind [forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful] on earth will have [already] been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit, declare lawful] on earth will have [already] been loosed in heaven.

     This is part of the passage that includes Peter’s confession of Christ as the Messiah and the Son of the Living God. Think how happy Jesus must have been, knowing that His crucifixion was coming near, but that He had successfully set His Disciples on a firm path to carry on His work. They recognize Him for who He truthfully is, and He can now begin to prepare them for when He must leave them. He can begin to reveal the Father’s plan and the part they will play in it.
     He praises Peter for his steadfastness and his faith, and then announces that He, Himself, will be the bedrock or cornerstone of His Church.  This is what I picture happening … Jesus with His hand on Peter’s shoulder, saying “Yes, you are a rock”.  Then, pointing to Himself, saying, “And it is on this rock that I will build My church”.  Perhaps he laid his hand on his breast, as he did in John 2:19: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 
     Then He announces today’s passage and their purpose in “the plan”… they will receive the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven! What must they have thought?!? The concept of someone having the keys to anything meant they had the power to open and shut the door to it. But Jesus is telling them they have that power and authority when it comes to the Kingdom of Heaven!
    I believe Jesus is telling Peter that he, himself, will open the door to faith, just as he would do to the Jews at Pentecost (Acts 2) and to the Gentiles in the person of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10). Those keys would unlock the blessings and the power of Heaven itself for all those who come to faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God of Heaven! That faith is a key that unlocks a Divine relationship between Heaven and Earth — one that cannot be hindered.
     But those keys were not reserved for Peter alone!  Just two chapters later, in Matthew 18, Jesus repeats the same benefits of binding and loosing, once one unlocks the key to the Kingdom. This time it is directed to the other disciples.  But it also pertains to us!  When we are obedient to the commands of our Lord, Jesus (in heaven) looses the authority of His Word as it goes forth on earth for the fulfillment of its purpose. 
     It is important to understand that the expressions “bind” and “loose” were common to Jewish legal phraseology.  Whenever a Jew came up against the Law of Moses, that Jewish person was either “bound” or “loosed” in regard to that law. To loose was to permit; to bind was to prohibit. To loose was to free from the law, to bind was to put under the law. Their regular sense, which any Jew would recognize was to allow and to forbid. To bind something was to declare it forbidden; to loose was to declare it allowed. These were the regular phrases for making decisions in regard to the law.
     But Jesus has come to fulfill the Law, so Heaven is now the authority to which we appeal — not the Rabbinic Law.  Therefore, whatever we bind (because it goes against the commands of Jesus) has already been declared forbidden; and whatever we loose (that aligns with Jesus and benefits the Kingdom) has already been declared allowable — and the authority of Heaven stands behind us! It goes without saying that this refers to Kingdom work done in Jesus’s Name and in obedience to His Word on earth.
     The authority that comes with the keys is still promised to the Body of Christ today. In the powerful words of theologian Charles Spurgeon, “The Lord continues to back up the teaching and acts of His servants, and as long as we abide rightly in Him, we have His sanction to make them valid. The words of His servants, spoken in His Name, shall be confirmed by the Lord, and shall not be, either as to promise or threatening, a mere piece of rhetoric.” Hallelujah, that we possess the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven!

     

     

This Is What Forgiveness Is Really About

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So exactly who is forgiveness all about? Well, it’s not about THEM! It’s not about that horrible boss, or your ex-spouse, or your abusive parents. It’s not about that person that purposely and maliciously hurts you every time they show up. Welcome to Day Fourteen of 30 Days to Forgiveness!

It might look that way sometimes, but it’s not. We’ve already established that they probably don’t even care that you’re still hurting and stewing and sticking little pins in little dolls to try to get your revenge. (No, really, don’t do that.)

Let’s face it, some of them, if they did know … they’d be happy.  They don’t want you to forgive them.

So exactly who is forgiveness all about? Well, it’s not about THEM! It’s not about that horrible boss, or your ex-spouse, or your abusive parents. It's not about that person that purposely and maliciously hurts you every time they show up.

Forgiveness is all about you, baby!

Yes, you read that right. In some ways, forgiving others is just about the most selfish thing you can do – but totally in a good way.

Despite hearing that forgiveness is to help you heal, most of us still cling to the notion that forgiveness is about the people we’re forgiving. We stomp our feet and yell that we’re just not ready to forgive, that we’re not going to give them that satisfaction, that we deserve to hang on to this pain.

The saddest part is when we add that final, petulant, “And God wouldn’t expect me to.”

There are a lot of quotes and Bible verses about forgiveness, but there have been times when my absolute favourite was from Proverbs 25.  I find King Solomon to be absolutely hilarious at times – he warns us that if we eat too much honey, we’ll throw up. But he also said that we should be kind to our enemies because “in doing so, you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Three thousand years ago, Solomon pointed out that those who hate us won’t really be happy if we forgive them and kind respond to them kindly.

Sometimes it is true that the other person truly needs and craves your forgiveness. That happens.

Usually, though, it’s not affecting them at all. They don’t really care if you’re stewing in resentment or if you’re dancing through the tulips. If they do care, it makes them happy that you’re still upset.

For you, though, it’s different. You do care.

And you’re trapped in those angry, hurt feelings, with that wall you built to protect your grudge blocking you off from all the good things in life. My hope for you is that you realize how important forgiveness is – not as a gift that we give someone else but as a gift that we give ourselves.

Have you been following along through this entire series? If you have, I hope that you have taken these important steps:

  • Recognized the importance of forgiveness
  • Recognized your need to forgive yourself through confession (admitting the wrongs you’ve done) and repentance (turning your mind from this wrongs)
  • Understood that God loves you and sees you as worthy of love and peace
  • Accepted the fact that forgiveness is primarily for your benefit because often the person who wronged you has long since moved on
  • Set aside time to talk with God, your spouse, trusted friends and perhaps a trained therapist
  • Made a firm commitment to this process

There is just so much beauty and good in this world, but if you’re stuck in a prison of anger and pain, you’re missing out on most of it. It’s time to get un-trapped and to free yourself.

Hey, this isn’t something you’re going to do overnight. It’s a process, remember? And make no mistake, I firmly believe that you need to have God in that mix. Whenever I find myself wondering if I should forgive someone who is unrepentant and even oblivious of my pain, He reminds me that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. To me, that’s pretty powerful.

When that doesn’t work, I think of those burning coals.

You see, while forgiveness is a gift that I give to myself, it’s also an incredible gift that Christ gave to me and to you. That’s Easter, in case you were wondering. Easter’s about forgiveness and fresh starts and clean hearts … not so much about bunnies and chocolate.

As you continue through this series, remind yourself regularly that forgiveness is something you do in order to heal yourself. It’s the good kind of selfish, the sort that makes us better people and more Christ-like so that we can then be of service.

Start with a daily affirmation or Bible verse as soon as you wake up. Throughout the day, remind yourself of the healing power of forgiveness, that it will heal you – and if you have no examples in your personal life, think of the example of Christ.

You’re doing great! Don’t stop now.

Wait … before you growl at me that you’re not doing great, that you’re actually kicking and arguing and finding every excuse you can to avoid this … you are doing great. You’re still here, you’re still reading along. It’s tough, but you’re doing it.

You’re going to get through this.

So exactly who is forgiveness all about? Well, it’s not about THEM! It’s not about that horrible boss, or your ex-spouse, or your abusive parents. It's not about that person that purposely and maliciously hurts you every time they show up.

Countdown to The Move from Wyoming to Nashville…One week and counting…plus news from Rich

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What’s in this post… News on Rich, SurvivalRing, Security, my career, local events, latest SurvivalRing Radio Shows, and getting ready to move across the country. Wait an hour and the weather will change Hello again from the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, where one day we have flash floods after chinook winds melts over a foot […]

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Forgiveness Is A Process

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So in the last post we looked at making the decision to forgive. It’s important – without making that decision, you’re not going anywhere. The next part is starting the process of actually forgiving. Welcome to Day Thirteen of 30 Days to Forgiveness!

Wouldn’t it be nice if forgiveness were simply a decision and we could stop there? Okay, I forgive you, and you, and … Unfortunately it’s nowhere near that easy.

Forgiveness is difficult, so don’t feel bad about how much you’re struggling. It is not a feeling and it certainly does not come naturally to us.

In some ways, forgiveness is more like a habit. We make the decision to forgive, and that gets us started, but then we need to spend a lot of time reminding ourselves of that decision until it become a habit, until it becomes automatic.

When you wake up in the morning, before the sun is up, and the blankets are heavy and warm but your room is dark and cool, do you really want to spring out of bed?

I don’t!

My instinctual reaction is to pull back into that dark, safe place of sleep and dreams. But if I stay there, nothing will get done and I’ll get sluggish and lazy.

We really aren’t meant to waste away our days snuggling into warm blankets and soft pillows.

Well, when we begin the process of forgiveness, we often want to retreat back to our “safe” prison of anger and pain, and we can come up with a lot of justifications and excuses for why we should.

We’re not meant to waste away our days there, either!

It takes a conscious effort to forgive, and sometimes we have to stay consciously aware of it for quite some time.

Forgiveness, while it starts as a decision, is a process.

How long does it take to forgive? That’s going to depend on a lot of things, like what you need to forgive, how painful the hurt was, and how committed you are to the process.

Prayer and meditation are both great tools to help you along this journey of forgiveness. (If you’re worried that meditation is not for Christians – I talk more about this in a future post)

Keeping a journal is another great way to support yourself during this process. And of course you shouldn’t discount talking to people. This could be a close friend, a family member, or even a therapist that helps you through your grieving process as well as the process of forgiveness.

The process of forgiveness isn’t easy or quick. That’s why you need to make this decision wholeheartedly. It will take effort, commitment, and a lot of time spent in prayer. It may mean tears as you face things you thought you had buried, and it will involve setbacks in which you feel you will never get past the pain.

But it’s worth it.

There is, of course, a … well, let’s not call it a shortcut, because it isn’t. You see, you’ll know you have finished the process of forgiveness when you can feel that weight lift away. I love how the classic book The Pilgrim’s Progress talks about our “burden” that must be laid at the Cross. That makes it sound very easy, doesn’t it? It should be. Just drop that pain and anger at the feet of Jesus and leave it there, right? The problem is that we keep sneaking back and picking it up again.

There is always room at that Cross, though, and always a place to put down your burden of shame and anger and guilt … even if we are coming back for the thousandth time.

You’ll know you’ve completed your journey of forgiveness when you are no longer sneaking back to pick it up again.

You’ll know you’re there when you can look at someone who spit in your face and still feel peace and love instead of anger and pain.

There are days that I’m there, and days that I’m just as spitting angry and revengeful as ever.

But I have seen glimpses of it and I know it’s possible. It’s the mystery to how Jesus could look down from that cross and ask God to forgive the soldiers.

That love and peace is there for us, too. One step at a time, as we forgive those who hurt us, we make our way there.

What’s Your Real Security?

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     As I wrote this post, AT&T cell coverage for nearly the entire state of Texas and major cities on the East Coast (including New York City and Washington, D.C.), the middle of the country (Cleveland, Detroit, rural Missouri), Southeast (Atlanta), and West Coast (San Francisco), was nonexistent for about 5 hours.  Not only were cell phones useless, but banks were unable to conduct business; grocery stores could not sell their goods; and businesses, in general, came to a grinding halt.  Those people and companies who rely on wireless cell coverage for their internet access were suddenly left unconnected with the worldwide web. I heard rumors that other major wireless carriers were also encountering problems.

     Fortunately for me, my internet access comes from a local cooperative, and I was able to write this post and see what was going on across the world. When checking AT&T’s website, there were over 16,000 comments reporting that outages were either occurring now, or in some cases, had been reported for over 3 days. Funny thing is, there was no media outlet reporting this phenomenon! No crawlers running across news station feeds; no reports on major social media sites; not even a mention on the conspiracy sites.  On top of that, the Stock Market took a pretty steep dive (supposedly because of doubts that the Congressional House will pass a new health care bill) — but was that the real reason? Regardless of all that, in interacting with people in my local area, there was a sense of underlying alarm … what did this mean?  I witnessed people withdrawing money from their banks (those transactions being done the old-fashioned way, by hand; and gassing up their cars). I will admit that I took those same precautions; primarily because I needed to fill up my car anyway and didn’t want to get in a long gas line (I still remember those of the 1980’s).
     Without appearing to be a fearmonger, it was not out of the question to suggest that this could be a nefarious act — someone (or nation) attempting to disrupt the business and/or economy of this nation; or at the very least, causing confusion, an interruption in day-to-day activities, and an unsettling sense of anxiety.  So, now comes the crux of what I want to say in this post … how secure would all this make you feel?  Are your first thoughts for your physical safety, or like me, would you have a calmness in your spirit, knowing that you are not of this world? That no matter what chaos ensues, I am secure in my spiritual safety.  I seek the shelter of Almighty God and picture myself running into a strong tower where I am protected from the disorder and pandemonium swirling outside.

     I ask these questions because we are living in an increasingly unsafe world.  Terrorism, nuclear weapons, and radical ideologies are the modern weapons of this world; weapons that man is far too familiar with.  But there is a growing wickedness and evil that are dangerous spiritual weapons against us, too.  Believe me, I am seeing that in the people God is bringing to us through our ministry.  And I will tell you that ten years ago, I never would have believed that I would be hearing from people who have experienced demons trying to convince them to end their lives; or demons identifying themselves as Lucifer during a healing/deliverance session; or heard the soul-searing pain that so many have suffered in their childhoods.
     But I have also witnessed women who have seen Jesus, in their spirits, change their filthy rags into a gown of white. And I have witnessed the Holy Spirit help a hurting heart forgive the one who transgressed against them so long ago, and experienced with them, the joy of a life-long weight being lifted from their soul. I have seen soul ties broken; oaths meant to keep generations in bondage be renounced; and childhood experiences integrated into the identity of the adult, all under the compassionate authority and guardianship of Jesus.
     And that is why I can approach the uncertain and unknown [that is a reality in our world today] with complete confidence and with peace in my spirit. I am aware of the dangers in this world — those that are possible, and those that are inevitable. I read my Bible and Jesus makes it clear that if we follow Him, we will not leave this life unscathed. But if the gates of hell were opened tomorrow, I know that He is the rock upon which I would stand, making my steps secure.  My spirit will find rest in Him, knowing my faith in Him is my shield, behind which I can abide in total confidence and trust. And I feel safe, knowing His faithfulness [to me] will protect me from the fiery darts of the Enemy. His Word promises that He will fight for me, because I am precious to Him; bought with His blood! What in this world can offer any greater security?
     So, the “wireless crisis” passed after several hours, with no apparent explanation. And I do not doubt that when the “time of difficulty” comes upon the earth, the chaos will cause widespread panic and fear.  That is the time that we Christians need to know where our real security lies. We need to know the Authority and the Power we will have to wield over the forces of evil, while being prepared to lay down our lives for our friends. The coming destruction will be sudden, and that’s why we need to be settled in our spirits this very moment. Know that if Jesus is your Savior, you are not condemned to God’s Wrath on the Day of the Lord. Jesus is your Rock, your Fortress, and your Deliverer. There is no need to fear because His Arms are everlasting, and He is a refuge and strength, and abundantly available to help in times of trouble. Any security that this world has to offer is inadequate and insufficient.

Psalm 16:8   “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken”.

   

Forgiveness Is a Decision (Day Twelve)

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Today we’re going to look at the fact that forgiveness is a decision that must be made. Nothing happens until you make that decision. In the next post, we’ll be looking at the actual process of forgiveness.

Now, we already talked before about what forgiveness is not, but I forgot something. Forgiveness is not an emotion.

Forgiveness is not an emotion.

You are not going to suddenly become overwhelmed by the feeling that you must forgive. It’s a conscious decision that you need to make with your rational mind. Now some Christians will point out that a relationship with God will fill you with love towards other people, and it’s true. If you commit yourself to seeing other people as God does, you will come to love and forgive them. But … and this is a really big but … I’ve known far too many God-loving Christians who show themselves very capable of ignoring that and choosing unforgiveness.

It’s unfortunate, and it harms them in all the ways I’ve discussed before, but it’s still true. No one gets an easy out on this one. Forgiveness requires a choice. You must decide to overcome your feelings of anger and disappointment.

There’s nothing easy about it. The decision to forgive is just the first step in a longer process that we’ll talk about in the next post. And yes, God and prayer and soul-searching are involved. While I believe that I can do all things – including forgiving the “unforgiveable” – through Christ who strengthens me, I’ve noticed that He doesn’t do very much in our lives if we’ve decided to be a lump on the couch stewing in our regrets and anger.

Until you make the decision, nothing is going to change and the process of healing can’t start.

Don’t get all wishy-washy with it, either. It’s far too easy to say “I forgive you” and not mean it at all. Sometimes we say it because it’s expected, or we think it’s expected. Sometimes we see it as the easy way out of an uncomfortable situation. But don’t expect anything to change just by mouthing insincere words.

There has to be real meaning behind the words, and you must have decided to forgive for the right reason. We have already discussed the problem of false forgiveness. Superficially, that looks like forgiveness, but it feels wrong, and it doesn’t produce the healing that we want.

As I said, forgiveness is not an emotion. But it does have an effect on our emotions. Once we make the choice to forgive and start down the path, we can start to heal. It starts with forgiving ourselves, and then forgiving the wrongs done to us and the pain that others have caused. As we move along the path, we can feel forgiveness regarding the things and people we’ve lost because of the actions of other people.

For a while, it takes regular, daily reminders. Today, I will practice forgiveness. Today, and just for today, I will make the decision to examine my heart for bitterness and anger and stay with the process of forgiveness.

Are you ready? In the next post, we’re going to get into some meat and potatoes stuff. We’ll look at exactly how we start the process of forgiveness.

Pain Never Cancels Out Pain (Day Eleven)

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One of those difficult conversations that I have with my children are explaining that we all get hurt by people around us. Misunderstandings, differences in belief and thought, and sometimes plain old malice, we are hurt by people we love dearly and by those we barely know, but paying back hurt with hurt, or holding onto our anger never helps anyone.

Recently, I had one of those conversations, with one child crying from a toy block thrown to their head and the other getting a bitten arm bandaged. He hit me first. No, she took the car I was playing with.

How much does it really matter, though? Or, more importantly, did biting his arm make her head hurt any less?

It’s hard for any of us to get past pain, anger and resentment.

It’s very common to want to get even – to hurt them back and pay pain with pain, preferably more than we received. We could look back into the Old Testament and see the concept of “an eye for an eye”. What most people don’t realize is that this was meant to limit how people were dealing with wrongs.

That says a lot for our natural tendencies, doesn’t it? Our instincts are to not only lash out for wrongs done but to pay it back with interest.

I have said it before – God created us to be loving and full of joy, but since the Fall, we really are a bunch of selfish stinkers. The need to get even is deeply engrained in our social conscience.

What happens when we give in to that and repay pain with pain, hurt with hurt, wrong with wrong?

The pain we give out can never cancel out the pain we received. Never. It just doesn’t work that way and it never did. Our social conscience really needs to learn the lesson of experience!

Paying back the wrongs only adds to the pain and sparks another round of retribution from the other side. This becomes a never ending cycle of pain and anger.

We have all heard about the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud from the late 1800s. It started out as a simple disagreement – over a hog, of all things – and quickly turned into a feud that lasted for generations. That feud spiraled out of control so badly that we use the term ‘Hatfields and McCoys” to indicate a stupid and unending family feud.

In each act of retribution, the families attempted to cancel out pain received with pain given.

It’s very obvious that it didn’t work.

A lot of pain and death could have been avoided if the first act of wrongdoing, or perceived wrongdoing, was forgiven. How sad to look back at generations of hurt and realize this. In the case of the Hatfields and the McCoys, it seems pretty obvious that they should have taken a step back and forgiven each other the previous wrongs. It would have saved everyone from the feud that resulted.

Just as in our own lives, this wasn’t so clear to the two warring families.

Practicing forgiveness is difficult. We don’t want to forgive anyone when we’re hurting, and we usually want the other person to pay for what they’ve done. Forgiving feels too much like giving in and giving up.

Thankfully, that’s not what happens at all.

Instead, forgiveness happens when we choose to move past the pain and anger. Revenge and dishing out more pain can’t cancel out the pain we feel … but forgiveness can.

If we are really honest with ourselves, we don’t want revenge. We don’t honestly want to inflict more pain. What we actually want is to heal and move on, and we mistakenly believe that retribution will do it. In fact, forgiveness is what gets us there.

Again, it doesn’t mean that we like and trust the person who hurt us, and it doesn’t mean we have to resume a relationship with them. But it does mean that we give up on those feelings of anger and the need to get even in order to find peace.

Once we make that decision to forgive, to give up on all thoughts of paying back pain with pain, we are on the path to peace and healing.

Mark 7:24-28

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But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”  Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.

     This is an often misunderstood verse, with implications far beyond it’s surface interpretation. The backdrop of Jesus’s words is that He has retired to the region of Tyre and Sidon. These were important Canaanite cities, and Tyre was actually mentioned as the western border of the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:29), while Sidon was included as part of the inheritance of Asher on its northern boundary (Joshua 19:28).  While Joshua included it as part of the Promised Land of Israel (Joshua 13:6), the tribe of Asher failed to conquer the land as God commanded (Judges 1:31).  
     I know this is a lot of history about the Biblical Israelites, but it is important to understand that this region where Jesus met this woman was not Israelite by population, but Gentile, and pagan according to their religious practice.  And it is logical to wonder why Jesus went there if He, as He stated, was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.  Although it is not specifically stated, I wonder if there were times in Jesus’s short three years of ministry that He was exhausted by His increasingly contentious encounters with the Jewish religious leaders. And we can only imagine how draining it must have been to engage with the crowds who were growing and following Him everywhere.  If he needed some time away from “the fray”, so to speak, then this region might offer Him some respite.  That being said, this is only conjecture on my part.
     So, I would like to suggest that Jesus is saying, My primary mission is to Israel (the Jews), and to step in where the experts in the Law have failed, and guide and transform the people into once again, fulfilling their mission of being God’s Chosen.  He is attempting to reveal God’s Light to Israel, hoping to heal both their spiritual and physical blindness.  
     Jesus knew, as do we, that the covenant was between God and Israel, but “true Israel”, so to speak, is composed of Abraham’s children within the Jewish AND the Gentile groups. All who are identified as having faith in Jesus are “Abraham’s seed”.  Ministry to the Gentiles will come as a result of His rejection by Jewish believers. As the disbelief increases on the Jewish side, the door to the Gentiles increasingly widens. All this, of course, was part of God’s plan.
     The Bible says in verses just prior to Mark 7:24 that Jesus’s fame had preceded Him, and this Syro-Phoenician woman bowed down at His feet, seeking healing for her daughter who was demon-possessed. But what does Jesus say?  It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. It is important to recognize that this woman was asking for healing for her daughter.  She is asking, on behalf of her daughter, for Deliverance, and she believes that Jesus has the authority to do it. Therefore, we must understand that Deliverance by the authority of Yeshua is referred to here as “the children’s bread”. He has come to bestow Life-giving bread upon the children of Abraham; the kind of bread that should be part of our spiritual diet; the kind of bread in which every Believer has a right to partake.
     Jesus, is in effect, telling the woman that it is not His specific mission to bestow this bread upon anyone other than Abraham’s children. But her faith is actually stronger than many of the Israelites, who reject the Bread Jesus is offering.  She is willing to accept crumbs of Jesus’s Life-saving Bread, if that is all He will offer her. Ultimately, her faith is expressed in her confidence that God will help her and her daughter; that healing and deliverance will take place. 
     I would like to suggest that Jesus may not have intended to grant this woman what she asked for, but He may have discerned that her faith came from a genuine confidence in His Father, and since He continually stated that He only did what the Father told Him, might He have received, at that moment, a communication from His Father to deliver healing? That would make sense why He at first refused her request. Remember, He was fully man and fully God, so He must have been continually listening for the Father’s guidance on how to fulfill His mission. 
     But I want to go beyond the implications that this woman was seeking the Bread Jesus offered, which afforded Deliverance and Healing for her daughter.  As I stated earlier, the Life-giving Bread should be part of our spiritual diet. And we know that Jesus has been given Authority to offer it to us, so that we might be fed.  To reject Jesus’s Bread, is in effect, living in spiritual malnutrition; and to reject His Healing and Deliverance. After all, His Bread is not a food to be eaten occasionally or leisurely, but is rather, a necessity to sustain spiritual Life.  
     But when it comes to the Church, they don’t recognize the full implications of  “shepherding the flock”; that it includes guiding, guarding, keeping them in the fold, and feeding them (providing pasture). Ezekiel says, in Chapter 34, “The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep! You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled over them”.
     See that “strengthening the weak, healing the sick, and bandaging the injured (wounded)”?  That’s called Deliverance!  That’s what Jesus did as the Good Shepherd!  And if you need to see it in the New Testament, Acts 20:28 says it, too:  Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care (feed/Deliver) for the church of God, which he obtained with His own blood.  Yet, the Church doesn’t recognize Deliverance as part of their commitment to the flock.  But the saddest portion of this whole scenario is that the Church can’t bring Deliverance to the world, without first being Delivered themselves, and they don’t even realize it.
     The Syro-Phoenician woman was willing to accept the crumbs of the Life-giving Bread Jesus offered, knowing it would provide Deliverance and Healing for her daughter.  Today, too many Christians in the Body of Christ are in need of a few of those Life-giving crumbs themselves; their need for spiritual healing is that great.  But the shepherds of the flock aren’t feeding them what they need, and they continue in their weakness, their sickness, and their wounds. No one is discipling the flock or looking for those who have strayed or who are lost. We are too interested in feeding ourselves with bread that has no spiritually nutritious value.  No matter how many of those crumbs we consume, they will never make us well.  It’s time for the Church to seek true spiritual nourishment and true and complete healing.
      
      


     

Let’s Talk About Forgiving Yourself (Day Ten)

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Forgiving yourself … have I lost anyone yet? Come on back, my friend, this is important.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about forgiving others. Usually that’s what we think about regarding forgiveness, isn’t it? We think about people who have done us wrong.

And while we’ve talked about how important forgiving others is for your emotional and mental health, we haven’t really talked about you. That is, forgiving yourself, why it’s so very difficult and why it’s every bit as important as forgiving others.

In our forgiveness journey, there is one person we need to forgive above everyone else. And until that's done, we are pretty much stalled.

It’s okay if you struggle with this, because honestly, we all do. Forgiving yourself is harder than forgiving anyone else. There’s no one on this planet who is harder on me than I am! We’re our own worst critics and of course, we remember every stupid decision and harmful mistake we made.

It is so very hard to admit and let go of our mistakes.

Back in 1960, my grandfather made the decision to leave his secure job as a grocery store manager in a small city and to move his family back to small town Nova Scotia. The reason, from what I’ve been told, is that my grandmother missed her mother. In 1960, living a thousand miles from family meant you didn’t speak with or see them very much at all.

The decision was a bad one. Let’s be honest, it was a phenomenally bad decision, since he couldn’t get along with his mother-in-law and couldn’t find a job. He nursed his anger at himself, began drinking to dull his pain, and became violent and abusive.

One poor decision, which could have been handled had it been faced and acknowledged openly, turned into several generations of pain and hurt.

It’s impossible to love yourself until you can forgive yourself. And it’s impossible to truly forgive others until we face our own failings and forgive ourselves.

What happens when we look at our past mistakes, face them squarely and honestly, and then forgive ourselves?

Our sense of personal worth grows.

A while ago, I went through the Bible to find all the descriptions of how God sees us in Christ. It was powerful and you can download it right here (no sign up form required). You are not supposed to see yourself as worthless.

With a more accurate sense of your worth will come a newfound confidence that will serve you well.

Life is much easier and a lot more fun when you see yourself clearly and accurately, when accept your flaws and mistakes, forgive yourself for them, and accept yourself for the beautiful, worthy person that you truly are.

It’s easier said than done, though, isn’t it?

Forgiving yourself is harder than it sounds and it certainly doesn’t come easy to most of us. If you are lacking in an awareness of your worth, of how you are seen through the loving eyes of God, it will be even harder.

So let’s break it down.

First, admit your mistakes. Among most Christians, the wording will be to “confess your sins”. If that terminology makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay. In this context, a sin is a wrong that you have done to yourself or to others. It is something that you have done that hurts someone.

A journal helps here. Sit down and objectively list the wrongs that you’ve done and that are standing in your way. Don’t pretend you don’t know what they are. There are sins in my life that I would never admit to another living soul, but I know and God knows.

Writing them down is good because you have a visual record as you deal with each and cross them out. Don’t be too quick with the strike-out, though. Make sure each is fully dealt with first.

The next step is to think about what you would have done differently, given the chance. Knowing what you know now, what would you change?

That’s clear in your mind, right? Now take a step back and ask yourself this – DID you know that at the time? What I mean is, this hindsight that lets you know that it was a really, really bad decision … did you know that then?

That decision or action that you look back at and can’t forgive yourself for – did you know all of the consequences at the time? Or did you make the best decision with what you knew then?

My grandfather wanted to make his wife happy, and he probably missed home, too. He was making the best decision he could make at the time, but his inability to forgive himself for the bad decision caused decades of pain.

There is a decision that I made a long time ago, which caused me – and other people I love dearly – a great deal of hurt. For years, I had many sleepless nights and tear-soaked pillows because I couldn’t forgive myself for what happened.

If only … if only … if only.

I would have dreams in which I would go back in time and change things.

The problem was, though, there was nothing I could have changed. It took me a long time to fully realize that I did the very best I knew at the time, even if it did end up horribly wrong. The fallout from that decision is still with me, and it still hurts every day, but I no longer punish myself for causing it.

Nor will I allow others to use it against me, to manipulate or blackmail me emotionally over it.

You have those times in your life, too. Maybe you didn’t make the best decisions, but you had to grow and things had to change before you could realize that. It’s time to forgive your past self for the decisions that you made and to be thankful for those mistakes.

Thankful! It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But the truth is that those decisions formed the person you are today. We learn from our mistakes and all of our experiences, good and bad, mold and shape us.

Now, what’s next? There’s another part to confessing the wrongs you’ve done. I once heard a wise person say that not all wrongs or sins must be confessed publicly. Some do, but not all.In our forgiveness journey, there is one person we need to forgive above everyone else. And until that's done, we are pretty much stalled.

If the wrong you did is against God or against yourself, you need to deal with that privately in prayer. Why do we tell God our failings and mistakes? It’s not for Him – He already knows. We confess our wrongdoing in prayer because it is a very important part of forgiving ourselves and healing.

If the wrong you did is against another person, true healing requires that you admit it to them (and to God). I know – that’s really, really difficult. Even within a marriage, it can be very difficult to admit that we did something wrong.

The hardest type of confession, though, is when we have wronged our church or the public. That requires public confession (and a whole lot of private prayer, before, during and after).

The last step is what Christianity calls repentance. It literally means to turn your mind away from something. When we repent of the wrongs we’ve done, it doesn’t mean that we beat ourselves up, put on a figurative hair shirt, and moan about how we’re terrible people. Really, it doesn’t, and it’s a shame that anyone in the church ever thought it did. In fact, I’d say that true repentance might even be the opposite of that.

Repentance means to turn your thoughts away from the thing you’ve done and vow to do better in the future, with God’s help. You’ve grown and become a different person. Forgive yourself for the things you wish you had not done, be done with the guilt and shame and move forward.

The amazing thing is that, when we do things God’s way, we end up as happier, more joy-filled, confident people. No hair shirts required.

Don’t You Think It’s Time To Take Back Control? (Day Nine)

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Years ago, sitting in home economics class, I first heard the word victim with regards to sexual assault. It bothered me then and it bothers me now. We are taught to use terms like “a victim of …” So a person might be a victim of sexual assault, a victim of domestic violence, a victim of …

That victim mentality is taught everywhere, but I’m not sure why. I mean, I don’t know why anyone thinks we need to be taught to be victims!

It’s actually very easy to play the victim. The damsel in distress doesn’t have to do a lot of work, she just sits back and waits for her knight in shining armour to come and rescue her. Nurturing our victim status makes us feel righteous and gives us justification for holding on to our grudges.

No one needs to teach us that. For most of us, victimhood is the default reaction when something bad happens.

It’s much easier to blame someone else and make it their fault. It doesn’t matter if it actually is their fault or not, does it? I remember seeing a t-shirt once that said, “I know it’s not your fault, but I’m going to blame you anyway.”

Stop laughing – you’ve probably done it at least once. I know I have.

Playing the victim does something very important. It lets us sit back and react instead of proactively taking control and responsibility for our thoughts and feelings. We aren’t causing those terrible feelings – THAT terrible person is.

One thing that I tell my children often, and it confuses some people, is that no one can truly “make” you feel any emotion. At our home, no one is allowed to get away with saying “You’re making me angry!” No, the truth is that you are choosing to be angry and just blaming someone else.

This victim mentality comes with a heavy price tag. What you give up is your independence and happiness. Ouch. That’s a lot to give up.

Isn’t it time to take back control of your own feelings and your own life?

The first step is forgiveness. (You knew I was going to say that, right?) When you give someone for a wrong done to you, you take an important step towards taking control. It doesn’t matter if the wrong was actual or imagined.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you condone what happened or that you forget what they did, as we’ve talked about before. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you will love the person or that you’ll even choose to interact with them in the future (although, if you choose to, you can know do it wisely). It simply means that you make the decisions for yourself that it’s time to let things go and move on.

Forgiveness means taking control of your own future and destiny – or moreimportantly, removing that control from someone who may not even realize that they are controlling you.

A while ago, I spoke with someone who had run into a friend of her ex-husband. My friend was shocked because, thirty years after a brief teenage marriage, the man still hates her for having ruined his life. She had almost entirely forgotten about that short but sad episode and she was completely horrified to realize that his anger towards her, nurtured over the decades, was affecting his daily life. Even if she had been a horrible person and had caused all of their problems, why would anyone want to let an event decades ago ruin their present life?

When you forgive, you make room for the fun, happy and exciting things ahead.

Let me make this very clear – you can’t choose to be happy and invite positive experiences into your life while you’re busy plotting revenge and harboring anger. Instead of living a full life, you’ll end up sitting in a lonely apartment, ruining your own life while the person you hate so much is living well.

You cannot take control AND play victim at the same time.

Yes, when bad things happen, and when someone has “spitefully used you”, it’s quite normal to feel angry. And quite honestly, angry is better than depression. If anger pushes you out of depression, that’s a good thing, but don’t stay there. If you get stuck in your anger, you’ll never move forward.

Is Your Faith A Verb Or A Noun?

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     That’s really a very important question if you are going to be effective in God’s Kingdom on earth. Is your faith inactive or passive; something you say you “have”?  Or, is your faith a working, functioning part of who you are; something you “do”?
      I think first, we must come to an understanding of what “Faith” is, which involves unpacking the definition until we get to the very core or root of its meaning.  So bear with me for a moment, while I open up this gift of Faith from God and see what it’s made of.
     I’m pretty sure that all Christians can agree that Faith involves trust, belief, and confidence in God [that He exists; is our Creator; is the Provider and Bestower of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ; and that Jesus defeated the power of the devil at the Cross]. And “Belief” and “Faith” are often interchangeable in regard to our opinion of God. So, what does it mean “to believe”? I will submit to you that to believe something, one must be persuaded that it is true.  It is this persuasion of the truth that results in faith — we believe because we are persuaded that God is real; that He sent His Son to pay the debt we owe; and our reward for being obedient to Christ is our eternal salvation.  But there’s more!

     The Bible has a lot to say about Faith… Faith comes from what is heard [what is told], and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ.  This verse illustrates what I meant by “persuasion that comes from the Truth” (God’s Word). The Bible also says Without faith it is impossible to please Him. That implies obedience, doesn’t it?  In other words, obedience is produced by our faith, and is an observable act or manner of conduct that is a result of having faith.
     Put in very simple terms, Faith is one way for God to recognize us [who belong to Him] apart from those who don’t. And how is He able to do that?  By our actions! Yes, He is able to see into our hearts, but when we take action and obey God, it is visible evidence [to others] that we believe Him; that we trust Him.  Even more importantly, if we have true Faith in God, He has promised that we will receive His Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:14). And with the Holy Spirit comes the power of God. And that power is not to sit idle!
     Let me present a series of thoughts around which we “ran a rabbit” at our Home Church this past Saturday… Can you agree with me that we receive the full measure of the Holy Spirit at the time that we come to Faith; in other words, that we get the full measure of His power when we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior? By that, I mean that God doesn’t give us just a little bit of Himself to see if we can tolerate the power; or to say, “As your faith grows, I’ll deposit more of my Power in you”.  No, He gave each of us the identical amount, and we are completely filled with the Holy Spirit. If your faith is growing, you are trusting more to call upon the Power within you.
     Now, let’s consider how we use that Power; or if I may — if how we apply it is, in any way, in relation to how much we trust and believe [or exercise our faith] in God.  We know by the examples of Hebrews, Chapter 11, and other stories in the Bible, that there are people who by their faith, do great things for the Kingdom of God... Abel offered a greater sacrifice than Cain; Enoch was taken to Eternity; Noah built an ark; Abraham left his ancestral lands for a land promised to his descendants; Moses answered the call of God to deliver the Israelites out of bondage; the Israelites celebrated the Lord’s Feasts; Joshua led the people in bringing down the walls of Jericho; Rahab helped the Israelite spies to escape; Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego entered a fiery furnace; the Apostles were persecuted and martyred; and the early Christians went to their deaths in the Roman Coliseum.
     What do each of these people have in common? They received power from God to work on His behalf!  In the Old Testament examples, it was God taking action to work on behalf of His people by sending His Holy Spirit to accomplish His purpose. Now that we are part of a new covenant with God, He has put His power IN us that we might use it to accomplish His purpose on behalf of the Kingdom Jesus came to establish.  God took back the power that man gave to Satan in the Garden, and Jesus returned it to us through the Holy Spirit, so that by our faith we could keep the devil in defeat.
     So let me ask you this … are you using that power that Jesus deposited in you?  Can you see that the measure by which you use that [full] power might be a measure of your faith?  Do you remember that Jesus said, if you have faith and do not doubt … you [could] say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ [and] it will happen. Do you think you could do that by your own power? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit has enough power to do it? If you believe you have the full measure of the Holy Spirit in you, is it conceivable that you could accomplish this seemingly impossible command? But, if you doubt, then you will fail.
     Now consider the Apostles who we know received the full measure of power from Jesus. It was their faith that carried them through their trials and persecution, and through their horrendous deaths.  We must remember that they would not have been able to endure the suffering if not for the power of their faith, which was manifested in the power of the Holy Spirit in them.
     Paul told us this:  My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. It is very clear from this passage that our faith and God’s power are connected through the Holy Spirit.  In fact, I would be willing to say that a primary aim of Paul’s ministry was to point to Faith in [and by] the Power of God.
     So, can you see why it is so important that I keep hammering home the concept of our Power and Authority [given to us by Jesus Christ]?  We have His authority to use the Power of the Holy Spirit [in us] to continue the work He began.  And that can only happen if we have Faith in who He said He was, and who He said we are.  If you are having a difficult time believing this concept, then chances are your Faith is a noun.  You pray to God and wait for Him to do something.  But if your Faith is a verb, then you are likely exerting your Authority to call on the Power of the Holy Spirit to heal people, defeat their demons, and take the message of God’s Kingdom [on earth, as it is in Heaven] to disbelievers. You know that God is glorified when you put your faith in action.
     But here’s what often happens … People of active (working) Faith scare and offend those who are stationary or ineffective in their Faith. They are threatened by us, because they are suspicious of our claims of Divine Power and Authority; and they are too frightened that the devil might defeat them if they try to use theirs.  If they could just understand that until Jesus returns, we are God’s ambassadors; and He has given us the gift of Faith to use His Power to challenge the power of the Enemy!
     The last thing I want to leave you with, is this … I promise you that it is just as Jesus told us: if we have even the faith of a mustard seed, nothing is impossible for us.  Even the smallest amount of faith has the power of the Holy Spirit attached to it.  But you have to do something with it!  You have to use it! A person with little faith has as much of the Holy Spirit as a person who has great faith.  The difference is that the one who displays greater faith has done the works that Jesus did … anyone who believes in Me will also do the things that I do; and he will do even greater things than these [in extent and outreach].  
    We believe because we have been persuaded by the Truth of God’s Word.  And that believing results in Faith; and with Faith we receive the Holy Spirit and His Power. And with that faith and power we are to demonstrate God’s Power.  It’s all about action; all about doing something to achieve a goal — to stand against the wiles of the devil, thereby glorifying our God who gives us eternal life.  Here’s the reality — Faith is the bold, committed act of your will; your determination [and single-mindedness] to act on behalf of God and His Kingdom. Faith requires us to take action. Let your faith be a verb!

Romans 4:20   “But he did not doubt or waver in unbelief concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong and empowered by faith, giving glory to God”

The Freeing Feeling Of Forgiveness (Day Eight)

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A few times as this series as progressed, I have mentioned the freedom that comes from forgiveness. Today I want to share a powerful quote on forgiveness with you.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.~Lewis B. Smedes

In that quote you can find the key to why forgiveness is so important. Once you start forgiving – true forgiveness, not the ‘look at how righteous I am’ false forgiveness – you will find that the feelings that come with it are very freeing.

We often don’t realize just how much we’re held back by the pain, anger, grudges and resentment that we hold. By choosing to hold a grudge, we create a prison that keeps us trapped in those negative feelings. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no stranger to this.

Once we truly step onto the path to true forgiveness, though, and commit to the work and effort and soul-searching involved, we find that we are setting ourselves free.

Does it really come as a surprise?

Far too many people think that forgiveness is about the other person. They think that we forgive in order to release the person who wronged us. After all, the other person knows what they did, and if they’re a decent person at all, they must feel bad about it. Right?

And so, when you feel that way, you hold back on the gift of forgiveness, believing that you’re withholding something that they want but aren’t willing to ask for.

Okay, that happens.

But not nearly as often as you might think.

We’re all, at heart, quite selfish, and we all think that it’s all about us.

So, in most situations, while you’re stewing and holding on to your anger, waiting for them to come forth and beg for the gift of forgiveness, they’ve moved on and aren’t wasting a thought to the matter.

Since we’re sitting there, holding on to that grudge, though, we can’t move on. We can’t get to the point where we let go of the negative feelings. And while we’re wrapped up in that anger and pain, we miss out on all the good stuff around us.

Forgiveness can fix that.

It’s important to realize that forgiveness really isn’t about making the other party feel better. Even if that happens sometimes, it’s a very secondary consideration. Forgiveness isn’t about letting them get away with something, accepting their toxic behavior or bringing them back into our lives.

Not even close.

You can forgive someone for your own sake and still choose to have nothing at all to do with them in the future.

You can choose to forgive someone and let them back into your life (or not) without the same trusting and close relationship you once had.

The important thing is that, once you truly forgive those who hurt you, you have choices. It is very possible to look at someone who wronged you terribly, forgive them completely and then feel compassionate love for them. After all, we’re all hurting in our own way, and so much of the pain we cause others is because of hurts we haven’t faced and forgiven!

But you don’t have to bring them back into your life at all.

You might choose to have that person in your life in some form.

You might choose to never speak to them again and send them off on their life with forgiveness, love and best wishes.

Whatever you choose, and it is totally your choice, forgiveness means that you cut the ties that gave them power over you, your emotions and your actions. The thought of what happened no longer causes you anger and pain, and that’s a very freeing feeling indeed.

That’s when you’ll know you’ve truly forgiven, when the feeling that comes is one of peace and freedom. Examine your feelings as you root out the grudges and hurts. This is the peace that allowed Jesus to look down and ask forgiveness for those who were torturing and killing him as they were in the act of doing it.

If you’re looking for a couple of amazing resources that will help you grow in your faith, which go along very well with our study on forgiveness, I can’t say enough good things about these:

My husband and I are working through this fabulous little Bible study and devotional together this spring – and making a commitment to doing it each spring. We Choose Rebirth is for couples who want to renew their relationship. Like this Forgiveness series, it will challenge you in ways you may not have expected!

Restored & Renewed is a fabulous Bible Study, geared toward women. With beautiful printables that affirm our worth in Christ, colouring pages to help us relax and so much more, this devotional, Bible Study and journal package are just what you need to renew your soul in just a few minutes a day.

Did you miss the rest of this series?

Day one – Why It is a Daily Choice

Day two – What IS Forgiveness?

Day three – What Forgiveness is NOT

Day four – Why It is SO Important

Day five – Why It’s a Bad Idea to Ignore It!

Day six – The Forgiveness and Depression Connection

Day seven – When Forgiveness Gives a False Sense of Power

Day eight – The Freeing Power of Forgiveness

When Forgiveness Gives You A False Sense Of Power (Day Seven)

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Stick with me here. I’m going somewhere with this.

There’s an interesting thing that happens when we forgive people for the wrong reasons. I’m not saying it’s a good thing. It’s absolutely not good, but the reaction, and the story we tell ourselves, is extremely interesting. And almost all of us have done it.

There are two things that tend to happen.

Someone does you wrong. They spitefully use you. It really doesn’t matter what happened, whether it’s large or small or even if it was real or imagined.

Regardless, you feel slighted and angry.

You’re full of righteous anger.

That anger gives you a lot of energy.

Because you know you are in the right (whether you are or not), you hold onto that anger and resentment.

You’re not going to get pushed around. You’re strong. You’re angry. That hurt keeps you going, and that’s a good thing because they are going to pay for what they did to you.

They hurt you and they’re bad. You, though, are strong. In your mind, you’re hurling all sorts of angry thoughts and feelings at them, plotting your revenge.

And they don’t care.

Looks really don’t kill and no one has yet come to a bad end simply because they’re hated. Otherwise, this would be a very empty planet because all of us are hated by someone.

The only thing happening in this scenario is that you’re angry and miserable, your life is focused on that person you despise, and you can’t have healthy relationships because that ‘ghost’ is constantly showing up.

We’ve established that that is the path towards misery and depression, right? You understand how that works.

So let’s switch it around and change things a little bit. Change the reaction.

You’ve been hurt. The pastor said something on Sunday that was just … well, how could he? You feel betrayed and angry and can’t think of it without tears. With everything he knows about you, and then to say that to you, in front of everyone. You saw the look of shock in faces.

That’s okay, you tell yourself. You’ll forgive him. DEEEP breath … okay, he’s forgiven.

Now, don’t you feel benevolent and righteous? You’re such a good person, certainly a much better person than that pastor. He said that awful thing to you, accused you of … well, you’ll forgive him.

You’re still angry, of course, After all, who wouldn’t be?

But you’ve chosen to be the better person and forgive him for those terrible things he said. (After all, isn’t that what the forgiveness series has been teaching for the past week?)

Clearly, he just needs prayer, the poor soul.

God has promised to forgive us IF we forgive others, and you want your blessing from God. So, you’ll be selfless and choose to forgive that awful thing the pastor said. God will reward you for being so selfless, so righteous.

It’s not up to you to keep accounts. The Bible says so. God will keep score.

It really was awful, though. Every time you think about it, you pat yourself on the back for being the better person, the true Christian, by forgiving.

Can you see the serious flaw here?

This isn’t actually forgiveness! It certainly isn’t selfless and there’s nothing remotely Christian about insisting that you’re going to be ‘the better person’ and let God do the punishing! Instead what you’re doing is expecting a reward for your ‘good’ behavior and you’re just finding another way to wish harm on the person who hurt you.

It’s just that by pushing it out onto God, you’re making yourself feel better about your lack of forgiveness! You’re not fooling God, by the way, just yourself!

Granting false forgiveness – “Well, I’ll be the better person and forgive you, but God will deal with your punishment!” – is no healthier than choosing not to practice forgiveness. Both are dangerous paths to walk and neither one benefits you.

If you choose not to forgive, you are holding onto pain and anger and using it as a shield. It walls you off from other, healthy, relationships.

If you choose to offer false forgiveness, though, you’re fishing for recognition and praise for good acts that don’t actually reflect a changed heart. The pain and hurt and bitterness are still there, simply covered in a mask of false religion.

In either case, you aren’t practicing true forgiveness and you can’t move on. When we truly forgive, we get to a point where we can get past the pain and anger and let joy back into our lives. Whether we’re personally plotting revenge or hoping for God to do it for us, we’re still focusing on the wrong thing.

Ignoring forgiveness and offering false forgiveness are both paths that lead to an unhealthy destination.

If you’re looking for a couple of amazing resources that will help you grow in your faith, which go along very well with our study on forgiveness, I can’t say enough good things about these:

My husband and I are working through this fabulous little Bible study and devotional together this spring – and making a commitment to doing it each spring. We Choose Rebirth is for couples who want to renew their relationship. Like this Forgiveness series, it will challenge you in ways you may not have expected!

Restored & Renewed is a fabulous Bible Study, geared toward women. With beautiful printables that affirm our worth in Christ, colouring pages to help us relax and so much more, this devotional, Bible Study and journal package are just what you need to renew your soul in just a few minutes a day.

Proverbs 25:2

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It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

     I love this Scripture!  I love it because it shows God’s heart and how He wants us to seek Him.  I have heard so many people (both Christians and non-believers) say that the Bible is just too hard for them to understand… that when they read it, it doesn’t make any sense to them.  And unfortunately, too many stop right there, and never make another attempt to know their Creator.  
     Because it is hard, they look for easier ways to discover who He is.  And because He has such holy standards for who He wants us to be, they often look for alternative impressions of His character, using sources outside His Word to define Him. But I assert that we should all be like Solomon, who wrote this proverb out of the wisdom and knowledge that God gave him.
     Remember that King Solomon, when asked by God, what He could give him, did not ask for possessions, wealth, honor, the lives of his enemies, or even for long life.  He asked for “wisdom and knowledge” to rule the people over whom God had given him responsibility. “Wisdom” is the Hebrew word, Chokmah, and it means “the knowledge and ability to make the right choices at the opportune time”.  The consistency of making the right choice is an indication of maturity and development in a person.  The prerequisite for “wisdom” is the fear [awe, reverence] of the Lord.  When a person seeks Chokmah diligently, they will receive understanding.
     The understanding they receive is the “Knowledge” that Solomon asked for.  And knowledge is the Hebrew word, Yada”, which means “to know” God and to have an intimate experiential understanding of Him; that you have a relationship with Him based on experience and observation.  It goes without saying that to “experience or observe” something or Someone, involves action on your part; namely “seeking”. 
     And here is what is essential for us to grasp: the heart plays an important role in getting “to know” God.  When our hearts yearn to seek Him, we grow into fearing Him, trusting Him, and serving Him. So what Solomon is imparting to us in Proverbs 25 is this:  It is the glory of God to conceal a matter … It gives God more glory when He, in essence, “hides” His Truth in Scripture, so that we have to decide just how hungry we are to seek it out. Because you and I need to discern that with the knowledge of God comes responsibility to Him and to others.  We must represent Him in sincerity and truth, while showing others the benefits of seeking Him and a heartfelt relationship with Him — while holding ourselves and them accountable for sharing that knowledge.
     Then there is the other aspect of this Proverb: It is the glory of kings to search out a matter.  Revelation 1:6 tells us that Jesus “formed us into a kingdom [as His subjects], priests to His God and Father”.  We need to realize that we have been given legal access to this knowledge about our Father in Heaven; it is due us as kings and priests of His kingdom. The mysteries of Heaven and God are ours to receive when we diligently seek Him.  Matthew 13:11 tell us this fact: “To you [the Believer] it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [unbelievers] it has not been granted.” 
     That “hidden” knowledge that many complain about is there for the true Believer to discover as part of our inheritance as kings and priests, sons and daughters of God. But it depends on how hungry your heart is. God has given us an appetite for Him; it’s in our DNA. But how many of us will strive — in other words, struggle or make a great effort — to understand Him? What is knowing Him worth to you?  I assure you that it will be credited to us if we hunger and thirst to search out the matters of God; and it will greatly please Him to reveal them to us.  Because in the end, it is all about His glory and power and majesty and dominion … forever and ever. Amen.

Why I Am Having an Easter Egg Hunt This Year

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How can Christian families deal with events like Easter Egg hunts?

During the Easter season, there are many events going on from the sublime to the silly. While some are waking early for a sunrise church service, others are running around looking for eggs left by …. a rabbit? It seems rather non-Christian and for good reason. The earliest roots of the Easter Egg hunting are anything but Christian. There are no Easter bunnies in the Bible, and no record of children painting eggs or hunting for baskets of goodies.

In fact, there’s no mention of Easter.

However, early Christians did celebrate the resurrection very early, regardless of what they may have called it. Until the fourth century, Easter and Pentecost were the only holy days celebrated in the church. And … well, the decorated eggs showed up pretty early, too.


The celebration of Easter, despite the name, is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And fair disclosure here – I have never, not once in my entire life, participated in an Easter Egg hunt. Isn’t that strange?

And I have to admit, I needed to have a friend of mine explain Easter Egg hunting to me, and help me understand why it’s fun.

So why am I planning one this year?

This is where I insert a picture of myself surrounded by plastic eggs, captioned “Yes. It’s me, Marie. And you might be wondering how I got here.” Because just as we don’t ‘do Santa’, we most assuredly don’t ‘do the bunny’.

Hey, this post contains affiliate links!

Rabbits do not lay eggsIt’s in large part because of my friend Alicia Michelle and her wonderful Christ-centered holidays series, and specifically the Christ-centered Easter package. For the first time, I am seeing how Easter egg hunting and Jesus can go hand in hand. Her Christ-centered Easter package is overflowing with information and options, and it can be used in different ways depending on the age and makeup of your family.

So, from a fun Easter Egg hunt that introduces our little ones to God’s Easter Gifts … and leading right up to individual and family Bible studies, this package has just about everything you’ll need to celebrate Easter in a Christ-centered way.

My little girls are just three and four, and my boys like to play more than they like to sit still, so we’ll be keeping it simple this year. Next year the boys will be old enough to work through the Bible study on their own. I’ve been selecting decor printables from the Christ-based Easter package and we’ll be doing the Easter Egg hunt as a family. (As a quick note, my husband and I will be working through the We Choose Rebirth marriage devotional!)

Eggs are a symbol of new life and have been used as such for centuries. Easter recipes from around the world often use eggs – in part because that’s when the hens have started laying again and because people are craving delicious fresh eggs! But the egg, wrapped in its impenetrable white shell, also makes a wonderful reminder of Christ’s resurrection.

The tradition of decorating Easter eggs – Paschal eggs – goes back to the earliest days of the church. Early Christians would dye them red to represent the blood of Christ, but sometimes they’d dye them yellow or green, too. One delightful legend is that Mary of Magdalene went to the Emperor to tell him “Christ has risen.” to which he responded “He is no more risen than that egg is red.” Legend says that the egg instantly turned red.

While there are still many who avoid meat during Lent, you may not know that some also avoid eggs. However, once Easter Sunday arrives, eggs come back on the plate – and in the basket and hiding under the sofa – as a delicious food and a symbol of resurrection and the beginning of new life.

And there’s no need for a bunny rabbit who thinks he’s a hen.

Have a fun-filled Easter Egg hunt while celebrating an Easter that is about Christ

Christ-Centered Easter Resources

There are three different packages that are available, depending on what your family needs. There are different bonuses available for those who purchase it during the launch week.

WOMEN

Access to Private FB Group where Alicia will lead the Bible Study (March 18-April 7). I’m excited about doing this Bible study – it will be like hanging out with my friend Alicia again.

MARRIAGE

3 BONUS days of the Bible study/devotional

FAMILY

5 “Story of Easter” Coloring Pages that tell the story of Jesus’ baptism, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection

HOME DECOR

“He Is Risen” Mini Banner

And anyone who gets the Bundle package will get access to ALL of these bonuses but only during launch week.

But the Easter Egg Hunt!

Obviously, the eggs feature in an Easter egg hunt, which makes it a lot of fun. I just came back from the store and it took me an hour to really look through all of the different eggs that were available. Many kind of eggs have been used – hard boiled eggs, chocolate eggs, decorated eggs, plastic eggs and even incredibly ornate eggs. And sometimes … as we are going to be doing, plastic eggs can be filled with surprises.

These eggs – however they are decorated or filled – are hidden for the children to find. A friend of mine tells me that this is supposed to be done outdoors. That’s not necessarily going to work around here, because Easter is often cold and wet, with soggy wet ground that’s still too wet to plant in or walk on!

So we’ll be doing ours in the house.

We won’t be decorating the eggs since I’m using plastic coloured eggs. In each one, I’m hiding a bit of candy and a little Activity card. These pretty little cards are sized just right for the eggs.

The children start with with their baskets and the hunt is on. We rarely encourage competition at our house, so the goal will be for them all to work together to find all 48 of the eggs. My four year old daughter helped me print them off, so she’s had a sneak peak. There are four children and four colours of eggs, so each child has twelve eggs to find.

Our Easter Schedule

March 18 – Begin women’s Bible Study Restored and Renewed and follow along in the Facebook group with Alicia Michelle

April 5 – Day One of children’s Bible Study God’s Easter Gifts; Put up the Happy Easter banner; Begin We Choose Rebirth Marriage Study

April 8 – Put up the Happy Easter banner from the Home Decor Package

April 9 – Palm Sunday – Print off the colouring pages, a copy for each child

April 10 – Start the Risen Bible Study (Family)

April 13 – Maundy Thursday

April 14 – Good Friday

April 15 – Prepare eggs for Easter Egg Hunt using Activity Cards from God’s Easter Gifts

April 16 – Easter – Church – Easter Egg Hunt – Finish Family and Women’s Bible Study

If your family is like mine, then do yourself a favour and get the full Bundle. The retail value, including bonuses, is $120 and the cost during launch week is only $69.99.

No Cooking Easter Morning!

Between our Easter Egg hunt and church, there will be even less time than normal on Easter Sunday.  You might want to join me for a stress-free Easter morning breakfast.

Before you head to bed, fry up 1 pound bacon or loose sausage. We’ll be using bacon. Allow it to cool a bit and chop it up. Dice 1 small onion while you’re at it. Crack open 12 eggs and whisk them up in a large bowl. Add some salt and pepper to the eggs. Get out your slow cooker and a big 32 oz. bag of shredded hash browns.

Spray the slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray and layer 1/3 of the hash browns in the bottom of the crock. Top with 1/3 of the bacon or sausage and ½ cup of cheese. Repeat these layers two more times (omitting the cheese on the last layer). Pour the egg mixture over everything and top with the last ½ cup of cheese.

You can either cook this on low in your slowcooker for 10-12 hours OR put it in a covered casserole dish instead of the slowcooker and place it in the fridge. If you do it in a casserole, place it in a COLD oven and then turn the oven to 350F. Never put a cold casserole dish into a hot oven. It should take about an hour to cook through.

We are having an Easter Egg hunt this year. Here's why!

The Connection Between Forgiveness & Depression (Day Six)

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In the last post, we briefly touched on some of the negatives associated with ignoring forgiveness, and I mentioned depression. Today I want to dig into that a little more deeply.

What is the connection between forgiveness and depression?

Well, I know I said that forgiveness is about you. And it is. But the truth is that it’s not just about you. When we choose to hold onto a grudge, the chances of all involved ending up depressed are fairly high.

If you’re thinking that you’re fine with being miserable as long as you bring them down, too, you really need to keep going through this series. And I love you lots, really and truly, but … well, let’s just keep working on that anger, shall we?

Forgiveness and depression - what's the connection? Can we make ourselves healthier by choosing to forgive?

Anyway, the point is that by choosing not to forgive, you’re hurting yourself and you’re also potentially putting those around you in a dark place as well. That means your spouse, your children and your friends. It means the people who love you and want you to be happy.

There have been some studies down at universities in the United States that show a definite link between forgiveness and depression, and that certainly fits with what I’ve seen over the years.

When we choose to hold onto grudges and hurts and feelings of resentment, we feel less connected to the people around us. When we feel less connected, we have less capability for happiness and positive feelings and experiences … sounds like depression to me.

The good news is that it works both ways.

When we are depressed, it is very difficult to think about positive things. In fact, our brain changes so that we see everything negatively.

When we consciously and purposefully fill our minds with positive thoughts, we can mitigate or reverse those changes.

So let’s see if I can explain this better. We’ll pick one of those awful hurts from an earlier post. You are the adult child of an alcoholic. While depressed, every time you think about your mother, the thoughts are negative and bitter. She was drunk when you came home from school. You were always embarrassed. Other people had a real mother, but you just had this lush that screamed unforgivable things at you. Worse than screaming, though, was when she’d start hitting. Or throwing things. You’ll never forget the day she decided she hated the dinner plates and smashed every one of them, one by one, at your feet.

Look at those memories straight on.

They are there and they’re not going away. All of that awful mess is part of the story that made you, with your strengths and your compassion for others and all of your experience and knowledge.

Now, while accepting your mother exactly as she is, start working on forgiving her.

It wasn’t okay, not a bit of what happened, and it wasn’t right, and it’s totally fine to state that aloud and emphatically. It was NOT right and it was NOT okay.

Love might have to come later, so don’t worry about that right now. You’re just starting. What you need to do now is to start working on separating your negative feelings, which are hurting you every day, from the actions of your mother. It will take time and practice to identify the negative feelings, accept them and release them.

What happened in the past will always be there, and you can’t change that, but you can disassociate them from those awful feelings that drag you down.

There’s nothing special about that example of the violent, alcoholic mother. Perhaps you have a child who has rejected you and all you hold dear, and there are memories that just leave you gasping with hurt. Or you may have physical scars from a violent spouse.

Face those hurts. Look them straight on, name them and then start the process of stepping away from them. The thing that hurt you will always be there. It is in the past and can’t be changed. But you choose whether you let it continue to affect you every day.

Giving – and receiving – forgiveness has a powerful impact on lifting depression.

This doesn’t come natural to us.

Remember Captain Kirk saying that we’re killers and we must simply choose to not kill – today? Violence and hatred and grudges are our natural lot. Forgiveness is something that we must learn, and it’s something we can ultimately only do with God’s help. This is the power of the Cross, at Easter and throughout the year, that we can drop our burden of pain and shame and hurt there and, with the help of God, leave it there.

Despite our violent tendencies, we’re social creatures who crave and physically need connections with other people. We’re so pack-oriented, in fact, that we’ll bond with small furry animals! Actively forgiving, and building connections with other people, helps us to work well together and brings us joy and happiness because that’s how we’re made – regardless of how we act.

This can help lift us out of depression or prevent it in the first place.

It boils down to this – you have a choice. No matter how big the hurt or how much you think you need to hang on to, the ball is always in your court. You can choose to hold on to grudges, resentment, anger and pain, and greatly increase the risk of depression for yourself and those around you, or you can choose forgiveness.

Letting go of that anger and pain makes room for much happier feelings.

Forgiveness and depression - what's the connection? Can we make ourselves healthier by choosing to forgive?

Why It’s A Bad Idea To Ignore Forgiveness (Day Five)

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Let’s talk about forgiveness!

My entire readership suddenly looks baffled and wonders if Marie has lost it. Haven’t we been talking about forgiveness for several days now?

Let’s be more specific, then.

We’ve had a basic overview of forgiveness. We’ve discussed what it is, what it is not (which is just as important) and why it’s so very important to choose forgiveness.

But what happens when you choose to ignore forgiveness? Because make no doubt, it’s your choice.

Some of you are glaring at the screen now, ready to close this post, because you’re thinking I don’t understand. Your pain is so very strong and raw, and the hurt done to you is so incredibly overwhelming, that you just can’t bring yourself to forgive and move on.

If I understood how badly you’ve been hurt, I wouldn’t be so cruel as to suggest you’re choosing to be unforgiving.

Perhaps you were sexually abused as a young child.

You could be the child of an alcoholic who witnessed abuse and toxic relationships throughout childhood.

Your pain could come from rape. Date rape is a vile, under-reported crime that causes lifetime scars. Violent stranger rape creates its own trauma.

It might be that those who were supposed to love and protect you were instead physically and emotionally violent. When you were a child. Or a teenager. Or a new spouse. Or while in the hospital recovering from childbirth.

Maybe you’ve had children torn from your arms. Parental alienation – by the other parent, by the courts, by anyone – could emotionally tear your children away from you, and children have been killed, too.

I get it.

Really and truly, I understand exactly how you’re feeling right now.

There are times and situations in which forgiveness feels absolutely impossible, and no amount of reading or even therapy is going to make it easier.

There are times when, let’s be honest, you just don’t want to forgive. Move on? Baby, that prison of hurt and pain just feels a bit too good right now, because it’s yours and no one can take it away from you, and you’re going to wallow in it for a bit.

It’s okay, sometimes, for a little while, to feel resentful and angry.

Unless you’re spiritually at the point where you can be dying on a Roman cross and calling forgiveness and mercy upon your murderers …. No?

Not there yet?

It’s okay, neither am I.

What’s important, though, is that you start getting yourself into the right state of mind. You don’t want to be stuck in that world of anger, resentment and revenge. It’s not a healthy place to be and it will lead to so very many problems. That’s a place where you can’t have truly healthy relationships with other people, you can’t feel good about the world, and you can’t feel happy and content.

It’s also a place where you can’t connect with God, and I have to tell you, that’s probably the worst place of all. There’s a four letter word to describe what it feels like to lose access to the Presence of God.

Ignoring Forgiveness Keeps You Stuck

When you’re holding onto those feelings of resentment, it’s impossible to move on with your life. You might think you’re managing, but you’re not.

The saddest part of that – the other person has long moved on and most likely barely thinks of you!

True story – I know of a man is constantly plotting ways to ruin his ex-wife’s life.

He loathes her and wastes no chance to tell everyone how she destroyed him. Misunderstandings, the mistakes of youth, fights that escalated for stupid reasons – their marriage had ended for pretty much the standard reasons that young marriages fail. But he can’t let go. He’s on his fourth wife since her, and the anger still bubbles away, wrecking his relationships and her happiness.

Meanwhile, she has remarried (and stayed married) and has happily settled down into a nice community as far away from him as she can. Mention him and she’ll look surprised for a moment and then a little sad. It would have been nice, she’ll tell you, if they could have at least stayed friendly, but it is what it is. The last time he screamed at his family in a grocery store parking lot, she realized they needed to move. She recognizes that she wasn’t the wife he should have been, although not quite to the extent that she says, but then it seems all of her husbands have been “horrible”. At any rate, since she can do nothing to change the past, she has made sure to improve her relationships going forward.

For the record …. I know of four different former couples who all fit into that description, switching the genders a little! It’s sad to see, but it’s so very common.

That person you’re hating on and holding a grudge against, are they even sparing a thought to what happened? In all likelihood, they’ve moved on with life and aren’t feeling worried or bad about it. In fact, it’s quite possible that they’ve completely forgotten whatever it is that you’re nursing in your prison of anger.

And there you are, stuck in that miserable, painful emotional place, holding on to your grudge because it somehow is going to make things right. You see, in the example above, does it matter which spouse was in the wrong, if either of them even were?

Which of them is happier, more content and enjoying life?

Can you see how forgiveness is about you?

Holding On To Anger Keeps Out Happiness

All of that anger makes it hard to make room for positive feelings.

Truthfully, you can’t be happy and angry at the same time, and you’ve spent a long time holding on to that hatred. It crowds out all the good emotions.

When you begin to forgive, and choose to love even those who harm you and spitefully use you, the anger and hurt makes room in your heart for joy and happiness.

If that’s not a great reason to make a serious effort to forgive, I don’t know what is!

It May Even Cause Depression

When you’re stuck in that dark place, you’re retraining your brain to negative, dark emotions. They are always there and, as I said, anger and happiness can’t coexist.

This is a path that leads to depression.

Is it worth it? Is the dubious pleasure you get from nursing that grudge worth risking depression? Even if you are totally in the right and they are totally in the wrong, how does it help you to keep that grudge going?

Yes, there are generally other factors that come into play with depression (and I’ve mentioned before that I suffer from seasonal bouts of depression), but learning how to forgive goes a long way towards easing the darkness.

That feeling of freedom that comes when you truly forgive will go a long way towards helping you feel better. Depression seems to drop you into a deep, dark hole with no sunshine. Forgiveness helps you to let a bit of sunshine in.

Please take this warning seriously.

Ignoring forgiveness will never hurt anyone else more than it hurts you.

Why Forgiveness Is So Important (Day Four)

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When we forgive, a self-built prison of anger and pain comes down and we move on with our lives. But what happens when we ignore forgiveness? When we hold onto anger, hurt, grudges and feelings of revenge, it prevents us from moving on. That means that end up feeling stuck and trapped in the anger.

In The Presence of Warriors

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     Have you ever looked forward to a meeting of a group of people, knowing in your spirit that it was going to be an appointed time of the Lord’s?  That is what happened to me these last few days.  A seemingly random text about what was on our calendar turned into three days of renewing old friendships, making new ones, and all of it exalting the Lord.
     But this post is about more than relationships built on common faith.  For me, the lone woman in the group, it was about being in the presence of faithful men who embody what it means to be a Spiritual Warrior.  It was about observing strong men who are seeking the heart of God; men who aren’t afraid to be vulnerable if it means their lives can have an impact on this world for the Kingdom of God.  These are men who have found renewed purpose in their lives; who have made a commitment to put God first above all else, and to unpack the truths of Scripture while uncovering and exposing the lies of religion and false doctrine.  In other words, these are men of character, determined to press into God and know Him fully, and to know who they are in Christ.  And, oh yeah, they aren’t afraid to stand against the spiritual darkness that might threaten them and their families, nor to take back territory from the Enemy.
     The definition of a warrior is this:  One who is engaged aggressively or energetically in an activity, cause, or conflict.  The cause of these men is the Kingdom of God, and they are aggressively pursuing it in their lives and energetically advancing the message of that Gospel. Each has fought his own spiritual and demonic battles, and come out victorious on the other side — because they knew that Jesus had already defeated those demons; they just had to partner with Him and be in agreement that they are Overcomers.  They are now equipped to lead others into the battles for their lives, and to model what it means to have a new identity in Christ.
     I had the privilege of listening to Godly men claim their authority to use the power of God [that is in them] to manifest His presence on this earth. They are warriors who no longer desire to cling to the powerless doctrines of men that instruct us to accept unanswered prayers, or to assume that all suffering and persecution is God’s means of revealing our areas of weakness and wrong attitudes in order that we might humble ourselves before God and He can accomplish His purpose in our lives. We do not serve a God who condones cancer or poverty or shame or guilt in order to cause us to seek Him. He has given us His authority, as Believers, to use His power to conquer the schemes of the devil, thereby glorifying Him in the spiritual realm.
     These are men that believe that concept and who no longer accept the lies that Satan tells them; truthfully, they know who they are … men seeking holiness and righteousness in the image of Christ. And they know that the authority given to them by the Word of the Lord is not power unto their flesh.  It means they’ve been given the right to give commands and take action (as Spiritual Warriors) against Satan; against sin; against sickness, infirmity and disease; against themselves [by just saying “no” to temptation and sin]; and against any situations or circumstances in which they or others find themselves.  But perhaps, more importantly, they know that this authority they wield is backed up by the Power of the God of the Universe, through the Holy Spirit.  In fact, they are on intimate terms with the Holy Spirit and dependent on His power to back up their authority.
     They have no qualms about following what Jesus has taught them through His Word, and they are ready to do whatever the Holy Spirit leads them to do on a daily basis.  It was so edifying and encouraging to hear them proclaim their total dependence on Jesus; listening for His instructions in their lives.  They know, without a doubt, that it’s not enough to KNOW what Jesus desires of His followers; they must be committed to DO IT! 
     In short, as women of the faith, they are what we would want in a faithful man who is willing to take on the role of Spiritual Warrior: fearless.  They don’t ignore Satan or his demons; nor do they go looking for a fight — but they resist him when he comes calling.  And for them, that means submitting to God and listening to Him like a sheep that follows its Shepherd … but resisting like a lion, confident that the enemy will flee. And they understand [that at times] the battle will be won easily and swiftly; while at other times, they may have to stand for awhile, and then … continue to stand until the enemy leaves the field of battle.
     And perhaps the most enlightening aspect of spending time with these warriors was the overriding desire to be obedient — it was the realization that Jesus has already defeated our Enemy; by dying in their place, and accepting the punishment for their sins and those who sinned against them, Jesus has satisfied God’s righteous anger against them, men who believe. They are covered by His blood and healed by His stripes.  They don’t just know the meaning of Propitiation; they live it.
     In wrapping up my experience this past week with these inspirational warriors, I want to borrow from the words of Andrew Wommack, who is a well-known proponent of our Authority and Power. I believe that he accurately describes the theology that is represented by the lives of “my” Spiritual Warriors.  They are authentic in their belief that “[Jesus] deposited His resurrection power inside every believer. He’s done His part, and now it is up to us to do ours. We need to take the authority He has given us and become commanders instead of beggars”.  My warriors will not beg God to deliver them from every sling and arrow of the devil.  They will step up and be the Warriors that God made them to be, and use the authority they have been given by their Creator to call upon His power [inside them] to establish this world as His Kingdom.
     They are battle-tested and battle-ready.  And even more precious to us women, they protect, shield, guard, encourage, and love their families. And I’m proud to call them my husband, my “spiritual son”, and my spiritual “brother” in Christ.  May God strengthen them, nourish them, and sustain them in their purpose for His Kingdom.  I know that crowns await them in heaven.

Ephesians 6:10     “In conclusion, be strong in the Lord [draw your strength from Him and be empowered through your union with Him] and in the power of His [boundless] might.”

   

Matthew 5:3-12

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And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are…

      This begins what the Bible calls “The Beatitudes”, which means condition or statement of blessedness.  As Jesus teaches the multitudes on an undisclosed mount, He reveals the ethics or value system of the Kingdom of God, about which He was sent to preach the Good News (Luke 4:43).  In the prior chapter of Matthew, Jesus called for “repentance, because the Kingdom of God was at hand”. In Matthew 5, Jesus explains how repentant people should live their lives under God’s rule.  The world has yet to recognize the Kingdom, but by following the moral codes and standard of behavior laid out in the Beatitudes, the followers of Christ will be prepared for the Day that God will judge the world and reign on earth.  
     These Kingdom ethics will not be easily embraced by the selfish and arrogant of the world, but will be words of comfort and solace to the brokenhearted. The words were radical for those who first heard them, and are still revolutionary to the modern mind and intellect. But those who humble themselves and embrace these principles will be blessed in this age and the age to come.  Here is what Jesus wants us to understand….
     Blessed are the poor in spirit; for their’s is the kingdom of heaven.  Without Jesus and the Holy Spirit, I am spiritually bankrupt and without moral virtue.  I am like a beggar who must rely on God’s Power in my spirit and in my life.  Only those who recognize their poverty in spirit will be rewarded with the kingdom of heaven.
     Blessed are they that mourn; for they will be comforted.  I express my deep grief before God for my fallen state; I recognize my depraved state and that I am worthy of His judgment and Death.  But because of my humble assessment, I have found a path to God, and I will be comforted by His grace and mercy.
     Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.  I proclaim my willingness to be obedient, and to submit and work under the authority and power of Jesus.  My reward and inheritance will be to rule and reign with Him on the earth.
     Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.  It will be my lifelong mission to hunger after a life that reflects Jesus.  With this thirst for more of Him I will develop the character traits of mercy and a pure heart, which will result in greater intimacy with the Lord.
     Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.  I will extend the same mercy to others, that my God has given me, whether they deserve it or not.  For, I certainly did not deserve it, yet God stretched out His hand to me.  I trust that the Lord will honor my acts of concern for others.
     Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  The heart is where the Holy Spirit takes up residence, and I will endeavor to live a life that maintains a heart that is genuine, sincere, and uncontaminated by the world.  And with a pure heart, I know that I will enjoy greater intimacy with God, which is the ultimate goal in my relationship with Him.
     Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children [the sons and daughters] of God.  I pray that I can become a person of great passion for reconciliation between all people. I want to reflect the peace and harmony of heaven on earth, and to be a person of action to bring it about.
     Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for their’s is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for they persecuted the prophets in the same manner; those prophets who came before you.  Persecution is how the world will receive those of us who follow Christ, because our values and character traits are opposite of the world’s thinking and the principles they embrace.  But, by sharing in and enduring the persecution that our Lord and the prophets experienced, we will be declaring to the world and our spiritual Enemy whose side we are on. When the End of this Age comes, and the world is judged, we will receive our reward and inheritance as the sons and daughters, and co-heirs, with Christ. 
     In summary, the Beatitudes convey the blessings of belonging to the Kingdom of God and the spiritual implications of Jesus’s rule in our lives.  These should be the spiritual attitudes, goals, and character traits of all Christians. I must admit that I have been surprised to find that a great number of Church-going Christians cannot explain the meaning or ramifications of these blessings that are a central component of Jesus’s Gospel of the Kingdom. That is a sad appraisal of the state of the Church.  Let us determine that from this day forward we will embody these principles so that all the world will know what it means to be a Christian, and the extent of His rule in our lives.   
      

We Aren’t Fooling The Devil!

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     Today’s post goes hand-in-hand with my thoughts and opinion on Sunday’s Scripture, Mark 7:13.  When we follow the traditions of men, instead of the Authority of the Word, then we are, as the Apostle Paul expressed in 2 Timothy 3:5, having a form of godliness, but denying the power of the faith [we] claim to embrace.
     He is writing from prison to encourage Timothy that he will soon face growing opposition, yet great opportunities to witness of the Power of God in a person’s life.  The same holds true for us today, even as Paul’s forecast of what mankind will become reflects our current society: lovers of self [narcissistic, self-focused], lovers of money [impelled by greed], boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy and profane, [and they will be] unloving [devoid of natural human affection, calloused and inhumane], irreconcilable, malicious gossips, devoid of self-control [intemperate, immoral], brutal, haters of good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of [sensual] pleasure rather than lovers of God.
     Yet what is the response of Christians?  Are we coming together as one Body to counter these influences of the Enemy in the world? Do we put the stability and advancement of the Kingdom of God [on earth] before our own security and peace of mind?  Or do we sit silently in our church buildings, cleaving to the belief that we are saved, are sealed with the Holy Spirit, and just have to keep waiting expectantly for Jesus to appear in the sky and whisk us to heaven?
     That train of thought has been prevalent among Christians who reject any thought of preparing for “a worst-case scenario”.  When the Prepper movement gained momentum a few years back, there were those among the faithful who denied the need to make any kind of provision in case of catastrophic emergencies, whether it be political, social, or natural disaster.  Their theology convinced them to think like this: “I trust God to take care of me; If this is the end, I will be raptured out of here, and all that prepping will be for nought”.  But here’s the thing … the Bible doesn’t promise that. In fact, it presents a picture of the world sinking into pandemonium before Christ’s return.
     Furthermore, the Bible states explicitly that it will be the Body of Christ; the Believers; the Church who will suffer the most. It will be necessary for us to cry out to the Lord to endure the coming troubles and times of persecution.  And I don’t think we Christians in the West have any idea of how that will look. You see, I’m not sure we adequately understand that we are, first and foremost, a spiritual creation in the form of a flesh-and-bone body. We are too comfortable in the body and we wrap our materialism around us like a protective shield, while not doing enough to fortify our spirit. We are ignorant that our power lies in our spirit, and not in what we have in this world.

     And that pertains to the practice of our faith, too.  As Christians, we tend to practice our faith in formulas or methods that give an appearance [which can be either sincere or insincere] of trying to please God.  But this is just an outward expression of faith, often resulting in little fruit for the Kingdom.  The true power of our faith lies in the communion of our spirit with the Holy Spirit, as evidenced at Pentecost, of which Jesus told the Apostles, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. That is the same power that indwells you and me when we accept Christ into our hearts as our Savior. And without the Holy Spirit and the power He brings, we experience spiritual death, and the works of the body are dead, too.
     So, what does it mean to have “a form of godliness”?  I would submit that it is attention to the details God has asked us to do in acting out our faith; the ordinances He has commanded us to do.  Scripturally, that is Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But does every person who gets baptized or partakes of the Lord’s Supper godly? Are they God-fearing? Do they exhibit a spirit of the power of God that produces fruit for the Kingdom?
     Another form of godliness is answering the Lord’s call to associate in worship.  We have church buildings full of people who congregate together in the name of Jesus.  But is the power of the Holy Spirit felt in those buildings?  Or are they just “the form” without “the power”?  You can have two or three gathered together in His Name, or you can have thousands, but if the house of God is only full of outward religious talk and empty activities; devoid of “heart faith”, then the Holy Spirit and His power have left the building.
     I fear we have become too casual about accepting the appearance of godliness.  It is easy to put on that form of which Paul speaks: we tell ourselves we come from generations of Church-goers; it’s almost a hereditary right to call ourselves godly. Or we find ourselves with prestigious titles of Pastor, Deacon, Elder, Sunday School Teacher; all forms of influence which can take on the appearance of godliness.  And how many people who have “walked the aisle” or answered an altar call, did so because others did, or it was expected of them by family, or they felt pressured by a well-meaning Church member or teacher?  That constitutes a “form” of godliness without the true power of God.
     After all, a form of godliness brings respect and a feeling of belonging; and the Enemy whispers to us that it’s okay to pretend we’re godly … Jesus won’t turn us down at the Pearly Gates because we fit all the outward requirements. Well, we may fool men, but Jesus and the Devil aren’t fooled!  Without the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling our hearts, we don’t exhibit the life and the force of Jesus in our daily walk.  He tells us in Matthew 7:22, Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’  Certainly, they were doing what Jesus had commanded them to do, and could be called “godly”, right?  And yet, Jesus says He will deny them when He returns.  They were exhibiting a “form” of godliness, but lacked the power of the “heart relationship” with Jesus; that’s where the power resides.  Sadly, today, we don’t even measure up to that form of godliness — we don’t follow His commands to do those things He did, and we don’t even know we have the power to do them!
     I want to conclude by giving us a picture of what godliness with the blessed power of the Holy Spirit looks like. A truly Godly man recognizes his state, repents and asks for forgiveness.  A Godly man seeks God with all his heart and desires to serve His Kingdom above all else.  A Godly man partners with God and the Holy Spirit to see His power manifested on earth.  In short, True Godliness incorporates spiritual power, not just external “forms”, or outlines, or appearances of godliness.  When we add the “power of Jesus” to our godliness and obedience to His ordinances and commands, we are unstoppable.  We literally have the power to heal the sick and to cast out demons; and the gates of hell will not prevail against us! The Enemy recognizes that we aren’t just a shell of religious devotion; that we actually have the power of the God of Heaven in us and behind us. We need to stop denying who we are and the power we have been given!

2 Timothy 1:7     “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”.

   
     

Mark 7:13

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So you nullify the [authority of the] word of God [acting as if it did not apply] because of your tradition which you have handed down 
[through the elders]. And you do many things such as that.

“Christ and the Pharisees” by Ernst Zimmerman (1870-1944)
    


      The context of this passage is that we see Jesus addressing the Pharisees after they have confronted Him about the actions of His disciples.  They asked the Lord why His followers did not live their lives according to the traditions of the elders — specifically, that they ate without cleansing themselves completely (according to the ancient rituals).

     Jesus doesn’t hold anything back when answering them.  He calls them hypocrites, which in the Greek means, pretending to play a part.  He then goes on to say that the prophet Isaiah described such religious pretenders like this:  professing faith in God, while their hearts were empty of His presence; their worship was merely a pretense (a false display of feelings, attitudes, and intentions). Isaiah went on to declare that these kinds of people and religious leaders teach the rules and doctrines of men — giving their traditions and ideology equal weight (value, significance) as the Scriptures.
     Jesus then adds His own evaluation of their words and actions: The religious leaders were clinging faithfully to their man-made traditions, while disregarding and neglecting the commandments of God.  External appearances and man-made rituals and doctrines were replacing the Divine rule of God. And then came the final pronouncement:  They have made the Word of God of “none effect”. Various translations use the word “disannul” or “nullify” [as here in the Amplified Bible]. The significance of this word is the effect it has to “deprive of authority”.
     By choosing to follow their own rules and rituals, which were adaptations of the Scripture, these men were robbing the Word of God of any authority it might have had.  They were acting as if the traditions and rituals handed down to them by religious leaders and elders of the Faith took supremacy over what God had commanded them to do. In essence, they were acting as if God’s Word did not apply to them and they had chosen to follow men instead.  In this case, it was only about cleansing before eating, but Jesus accuses them of doing many more things that followed man’s guidelines rather than God’s.
     Are we any different today?  I would venture to say that we all have our “doctrines” that we swear are supported by the Bible. Two thousand years of Church creeds, tenets, dogma, canons, and reformations have made it near impossible to be completely free of some man-made doctrine. When you just consider the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, you can see where man’s influence has resulted in the confusion over God’s Word, and the lack of the absolute authority of YHWH alone.
     How many different opinions do modern Christians have about The Trinity, the Deity of Christ, Jesus’s Second Coming, Salvation, Baptism, The Lord’s Supper?  And what about The Tribulation?  There are Christians who can’t agree whether Christ’s return is Pre-, Mid-, or Post-.  Then there is the Millennial Kingdom.  We have believers calling themselves pre-millennialists, post-millenialists, and amillenialists. We have Calvinists and Arminians. We have Dispensationalists, Evangelicals, and Zionists.  Not to mention all the “movements” within Christianity: the Emergent movement, the Charismatic movement, the Prosperity Movement, the Free Grace movement [which somehow differentiates itself from the Grace movement], the Hebrew Roots movement, the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement, the Restoration movement… and the list keeps growing. And how many people have searched the Word to see if what they believe actually adheres to God’s commandments? Have we made Him our authority, or are we following the traditions of men in the Church?
     But what do they all have in common? They all look to some man’s interpretation of Scripture to define their faith! Can you see that all these names are just modern renditions of “Pharisee” and “Sadducee”?  We have all been guilty, at one time or another, of applying some man-made tradition to our worship of YHWH.  And like Jesus said, we disregard and neglect the commandment of God, and cling [faithfully] to the tradition of men.  We have followed the tenets and teachings of our particular denominations, often not even bothering to see if they are confirmed by Scripture.  By doing that, who are we giving authority to? If we aren’t searching the Word of God to see what He commands of us in any particular tradition or ritual of our church, then we are certainly not making Him the principal authority.  And if we don’t care enough to even “check and verify”, what does that tell Him about how we regard His Word? Aren’t we just as guilty of “disregarding and neglecting” God’s commandments as these religious leaders in Mark, Chapter 7?
     Throughout the centuries, men have left their mark on God’s Word. Whether it has been John Calvin, Martin Luther, William Tynedale, John Wesley, or Billy Graham, men have long attempted to interpret God for God.  I am not disparaging the faith of these men, nor necessarily negating their impact on millions of people who might not have known God otherwise.  But just like the traditions of the Jewish elders prior to Christ, they have often added new layers of interpretation to God’s Word. When in reality, He doesn’t need any other interpreter than the Holy Spirit, about whom Jesus told us, when He, the [Holy] Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth [full and complete truth]. For He will not speak on His own initiative, but He will speak whatever He hears [from the Father—the message regarding the Son], and He will disclose to you what is to come [in the future]. 
     How much of what we hear and believe and practice in the Church today comes from the initiatives of men? I clearly remember a time when the Holy Spirit whispered to my spirit, and I began to feel empty and unfed. It was difficult to accept, but I had to admit that as I sat in Church each Sunday I wasn’t hearing or tuning into the Holy Spirit. Then it was as if He said, Why are you sitting there listening and not seeking for yourself?  I have so much more to share with you; truths and commands from the Father that you have never heard. Seek Him and His Son [in His Word] and I will show you new things you are to do for the Kingdom of God, for it is time for you to live out your faith, and you don’t even know what that looks like. Stop giving men your devotion and look to the Lord for His full revelation.
     I know there are more Christians like me; faithful Believers who are waking up to the fact that we have been blindly following the traditions that have been handed down from the elders of our denominations. We want the direct revelation from the authoritative voice of God, and we are throwing off labels and religious titles for the one designation that counts … Child of God and Follower of Jesus.  By doing that, we are seeing the Word through fresh and uncompromised eyes and hearts.  We are now seeing, for the first time, the commandments to heal, and to cast out demons, and the part we are to play in advancing the Kingdom of God on earth.  We no longer shy away from the “difficult” Scriptures because no one in our Church can explain them.  We recognize that God and Jesus are the authorities to which we answer, and I am so blessed to be among a growing number of Christians who are listening to the Holy Spirit, and seeking God’s authority in revealing His Truth.


Who Do You Say You Are?

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     I have been listening to a series of podcasts by Dr. Curry Blake, a leading authority on Divine Healing.  I have been greatly moved by his no-nonsense, down-to-earth preaching on the fundamental truths of the Bible. His teachings on both spiritual and physical healing, spiritual warfare, and our identity as children [sons and daughters] of God are quite thought-provoking.
     One of the statements he made really caught me off guard, and has taken me on a Scriptural hunt to discover just who I am if I say and believe that I have given my life to Christ.  Dr. Blake said that [after we come to faith in Christ], “We think we’re still only humans, and as humans we are still going to fail and have faults because we’re still sinners.”  He went on to say that most people continue to think of themselves as “just sinners saved by Grace”. He responds with an emphatic NO! And he says we need to change how we think of ourselves. After seeking my own understanding of his premise through Scriptural search and discovery, I have come to agree with him, and see myself in a new light. Let me show you what I have discerned…
     We can all agree that Scripture tells us that when we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are a new creation: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). So why do we keep identifying ourselves as sinners?  We were sinners, but we have been saved by God’s grace, and the Bible tells us that we are now the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ: I have been justified (completely forgiven and made righteous) and am at peace with God (Romans 5:1).  God no longer identifies me as a sinner.  I have been transformed — not just cleaned up on the outside, but completely transformed on the inside, too.  And what does that look like?  Romans 12:2 tells us: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. That means that this new creation I have become is a total and complete transformation from my former state; and I, in fact, have a new nature and now have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).
     So why do we continue to identify ourselves as sinners and expect to sin?  Is it because we have believed the lie from Satan that we are unable to NOT sin?  Because that’s not what the Bible says!  The Word clearly tells us that I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ [who] lives in me. The life I am now living is Christ’s life (Galatians 2:20). Since Christ was sinless — and the life I am now living is Christ’s life — shouldn’t I expect that I, too, could live a sinless life?  So why don’t I [we] believe that?
     It all comes back to renewing my mind to have the mind of Christ.  God has done His part.  Now I have to do mine.  God has promised three gifts to every true Christian: His spirit of power, His spirit of love, and His sound mind.  We can all understand what His power and love are, but what does He mean by a “sound mind”?  Strong’s Concordance says that “sound” infers discipline and self-control; which characterizes the mind of Christ.
     It can be a challenge to separate God’s truth [that the old has passed away; that we are a new creation; that we are transformed to live the life of Christ; that we are no longer identified as sinners] from the deceitful lies of Satan [that we are unable to stop sinning].  Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit, who would guide us into all truth. God and Jesus have done their part.  It takes discipline and self-control for us to do our part.  And it starts with taking responsibility for renewing our minds every time we are tempted by Satan to believe his lies. Believe me, I understand that no one said it would be easy!
     And I can hear some of you saying right now, “But what if I am unable to resist the lie I hear in my mind and I DO sin? Haven’t I then become a sinner?”  Perhaps we need to differentiate what the Bible tells us about sinners.  In the Old Testament, a sinner was identified as someone who missed the mark; a person who followed a path or lifestyle [or committed an act] deviating from God’s direction; forfeiting goodness in favor of moral failure.  In the New Testament, the definition of sinner is similar:  missing the mark so as not to share in the prize; but unlike the Old Testament, it is not simply the committal of the act, but a continuous practice of sin that would label us a “sinner”.
     Make no mistake, Sin has always been unacceptable to God, but if we know Jesus as our Savior, we now have an Advocate should we be unable to apply discipline and self-control to our minds when Satan tempts us.  We can go to Jesus, confess our lack of discipline, repent, and we are cleansed of all unrighteousness.  We may come boldly before the throne of God to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
     But here is the important thing to realize.  If we stumble, that does not mean we return to being a sinner, as before our transformation.  We have a new nature: I have been given God’s precious and magnificent promises by which I am a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). By nature, we are now children of God, not a child of the devil! Because of our new nature, it should be easier for us to be righteous than to sin. It is no longer in our [new] nature to desire to sin, so why are we still identifying ourselves as SINNERS?
     There are so many Scriptures that tell us who we are in Christ, and not one of them says we are still sinners!  1 Peter 2:9,10 tells us We are a part of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession! 1 Thessalonians 5:5 proclaims that We are children of light and not darkness.  Colossians 1:14 declares, We have been redeemed and forgiven of all our sins. The debt against us has been canceled.  What part of any of these verses insinuates that we are still sinners?  So, the next time you hear the whisper of Satan’s lie that you are “[still] a sinner saved by Grace”, renew your mind and rebuke that lie.  Speak boldly and confidently:  I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and I am righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:24). And then believe it!

Romans 6:6   “We know that our old self [our human nature without the Holy Spirit] was nailed to the cross with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin”.

 
   
   

Fake News, Real News & Soaring Eagle!

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Fake News, Real News & Soaring Eagle! Host: James Walton “I Am Liberty” Audio in player below! There has been so much talk about fake news lately that its been a bit overwhelming. On this show I would really like to explore the idea of fake news. You see fake news in and of itself … Continue reading Fake News, Real News & Soaring Eagle!

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Ephesians 2:1-10

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 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest…

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!— 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.

The Miracles of St. Paul at Ephesus, by Jean Restout, 1693
     I don’t know whether you have had the opportunity to read the comments posted on my blog titled, God’s Power, Paul’s Thorn, and Our Authority to Overcome, but two readers posted very different comments, which seemed to be somewhat in disagreement.  One quoted the late Missionary and Evangelist, T. L. Osborn: “You should never ask God to do what he has said He’s already done, and you should never ask God to do what he has told you to do.” The reader then went on to proclaim that this statement is rooted in the principle that God has given us the means to deal with satan’s plans and does not need to handle what has already been dealt with.  The second reader was more concise in his comment, saying simply, “I have always taken it to mean that the gift of Grace trumps everything!” I know that the first comment will make many Christians uncomfortable because it doesn’t fit with their Church’s doctrine. The second comment probably falls more in line with the Church’s traditional theology.  What if both of them are right?
     There is no doubt that God’s Grace has saved us from His justified wrath and delivered us from spiritual death unto Life. And God, through His Grace and Mercy, is able to deliver us out of any situation He desires.  And if He doesn’t, then the Grace that saves us from hell is surely enough.  But I can’t help thinking about what God has already done for us, and what He expects us to do  as a consequence of His Grace in our lives.  And I believe Ephesians 2:1-10 does a pretty good job of identifying this cause and effect concept, and supports both reader’s articulate comments.
     What’s interesting is that verses 1-9 are filled with all the work God has done on our behalf [exhibiting His Grace], and verse 10 makes it very clear that it has all been done with the anticipation that we will do the good works He expects.  First of all, this passage describes the state we find ourselves in … separated from Him because we walk in the ways of the world; we are spiritually dead, finding ourselves under the influence of the Prince of the power of the air (Satan).  Furthermore, this prince is a spirit which this translation (New English Translation) says “energizes the sons of disobedience”.  
     Now, I want to propose that many of us within the Body of Christ probably understand sons of disobedience to mean unbelievers, or lost souls.  But I submit that verse 2 also includes those unbelieving Christians who fight against the purposes of God.  That is, Believers who are battling a spirit of unbelief, and [in their unbelief] are disobedient to the commands of God.
     And what is God’s response to us, “the children of [His] wrath”?  HIS GRACE, WHICH EMPHASIZES HIS WORKS FOR US! And what has He done for us? HE LOVED US!  Love is central to His attributes, and it is not merely an abstract principle.  His love caused Him to act toward us with mercy, and to seek and save all who are lost.  
     In loving us, HE MADE US ALIVE.  We are dead to the old self and are made new creations.  Then God RAISED US UP.  Just as God physically resurrected Jesus, He spiritually resurrects us to a new life.  And it is all because of His Grace and Mercy. Our salvation – our rescue – from spiritual death is God’s work done for the undeserving. And HE SEATED US WITH HIM (CHRIST) IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS. Note that realms is plural.  Although Scripture does not explicitly proclaim which heavenly realm, by including the plural form of the word, might we not interpret it to mean both the second heavenly realm [where Satan and his spirits wage war], as well as the third heavenly realm [where God sits on His throne, with Jesus at His right hand]?
     Verse 7 tells us we are seated with Christ in these heavenly places to demonstrate God’s immeasurable Grace towards us, in that we can partake in His ultimate Victory. In the meantime, victories will be won in the spiritual realm as Believers are equipped with Jesus’s authority and power to minister to others and to defeat the Enemy — works, not done by ourselves so that we might boast — but works that we were created to do in order to display His Kingdom and His Power and His Glory. These are works that He designed us to do as a demonstration of His Presence in us; we are to be active in the good works that He predestined from the moment He created man.
     That’s what verse 10 is all about — it EMPHASIZES OUR WORKS FOR GOD’S KINGDOM!  Jesus, Himself, said, Whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do.  And we believe in Him because of God’s Grace towards us. They go hand in hand.  His Grace offers us Faith in Jesus; and Faith in Jesus is supposed to result in being “created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them”.  God expects us to do good works, and He has told us what He desires to be done… to heal, to cast out demons, to take care of widows and orphans, to love one another, and to love Him.  As a wise friend showed me, “He doesn’t expect us to pray to Him in order to love one another.  He has already told us to do it, and has shown us what that looks like through the servant life of His Son.  He just wants us to do it“! And we are able to do it because of His Grace, which trumps all our fleshly desires and nature.
     So, my final thought is that both readers are correct.  They expressed the Nature of God … His infinite, all-encompassing, incalculable Nature.  And when He exhibits His Grace and we come to faith, He is glorified by His own actions.  When we do the good works He has prepared for us to do and bear fruit by our faith, then WE glorify Him.  May the Holy Spirit bear witness to all who glorify Him!

The Power of The Word

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     I recently found myself with a few moments of quiet time, contemplating about what God is doing in my life.  So this post will be a little lighter in content than the last ones, but it’s message is what has led me to this blog and the weightier opinions I’ve shared.  For one, I am amazed at the people He is bringing into my life.  Among them are new people, with whom I have no prior history — friends of friends, or family members of friends who have heard of our ministry, and are tired of fighting their demons and willing to give our unorthodox calling a try.  My husband and I are always grateful for the opportunity to speak Jesus into someone’s life who isn’t really familiar with Him.  We are willing to plant the Seed and let the Holy Spirit water it.
     And lately, I have been marveling at the renewal and restoration of old friendships; people that I know God has put in my life for a reason.  These are people who encourage me with their persistent obedience to God.  They are people who, like me, are not perfect, but they have a heart for serving God and are trying to walk that narrow path that leads to God’s Kingdom.

     But it hasn’t always been that way — in their lives, or mine. There was a profession of faith, alright, but my mind was not centered on God; my heart followed its own desires; and there was no evidence of consistent fruit in my daily walk.  It’s easy to say I believe in Jesus as my Savior.  It’s hard to live my life as if I do.  First, you have to want to live a righteous life.  That’s been a journey … as it has been for these old friends.  But we’re all making progress.  And how did we come to that decision and start down our individual paths?  It really began with a simple step — we opened our Bibles.
     I know that sounds corny and simplistic, but it really is the impetus that changes minds, hearts, and spirits. When I challenged myself to read the Bible (the first time) it was basically to familiarize myself with the order of it; with how the events in the Old Testament led to the circumstances in the New Testament. I loved the historical aspects of the Book and was able to see how [and where] concepts I had heard in Church sermons fit into the grand scheme of things.
     When I began to read it the second time, it was then that I was really seeking to know about God and how He wanted to relate to me. I saw Him as a more personal and intimate God, while seeing just how detached I was from Him.  My life, as a so-called Christian, looked no different from an agnostic’s, an atheist’s, or someone who worshipped Buddha, Allah, or Mother Earth. And I realized that my spirit wasn’t happy with the things of this world. I wanted more of Him!
     It was when my husband felt the same longing for more spiritual substance in his life — and he began immersing himself in the Word — that the Bible truly began speaking to us. It’s hard to explain, and again it will sound like a cliché, but God really does begin revealing Himself to you when you spend time with Him in His Word.  And the by-product of that relationship is this:  You want to be a better “you”; you want to live a life that is pleasing to Him; you want to change the parts of you that aren’t Christ-like; and you want to change how you relate to this world, and the impact you will make on it.
     It is this third time through the Bible that is truly revolutionary.  It is as if a veil has been lifted.  Both my husband and myself are seeing God like never before! The Word is alive with new meaning, and we are receiving new impressions on our hearts of just who we are in Christ — and it is so much more than we’ve ever been told or imagined!  It has changed how we see ourselves in this world, and it has made us bold in our faith.  And the greatest blessings come when we see the same transformation in our Christian friends; both old and new.

     We are reconnecting with old friends in Idaho and realizing that God is doing the same amazing work in both families — creating a hunger to be closer to Him, to walk more humbly with Him, and to be fearless in declaring His power in us to do great things for His Kingdom here on earth. We are finding that when we saturate ourselves with the Word, we are able to press into Him and the distractions of our daily lives don’t divert us from following in Jesus’s footsteps. And we’ve discovered that distance is no barrier to walking this narrow path together.
     And God is blessing us with new relationships among Christians who aren’t afraid to step outside of the “Church box”; these new friends actually believe what the Bible says about how we are to exercise the Authority given to us by Christ [as His disciples], and aren’t afraid to do the works He has commissioned us to do, using the Power He has given us.  It strengthens our faith to share this boldness with other followers of Christ; not fearing failure, but continuing in the maturing [of our faith].  We are trusting Jesus and the Father; and we are confident of this, that He who began a good work in us will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  All we have to do is believe what the Word tells us and try.  We won’t always succeed, but it is God who has called us to heal, cast out demons, and share the message of His Kingdom.  And what He has begun in us will be refined and purified each time we act out our faith.  And with each step of the way, we are taking back territory from the Enemy!
     But as much as the Word unites us with fellow Christians, it is exciting to introduce the Word to new friends; even those who are not yet saved.  It is amazing how the Bible can speak into someone’s life if we will just spend the time studying with someone one-on-one.  It has truly been inspiring [for me] to watch my husband study the Book of Matthew with unchurched people and to hear how they respond.  At least three nights out of the week, he is on the phone introducing these people to Jesus; and they actually experience an encounter with a man who is at the same time, God.  They learn how He wants us to live, and how the Sermon on the Mount and the Parables really speak volumes to them about how He can be real in their lives. Sometimes these people are left weeping at the realization of the time they’ve lost, but they are well aware that Jesus is ready to receive them now and transform the rest of their lives.  They may have lost time with Him here on earth, but they can spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

     And that’s the beauty and the glory and the majesty and the power of the Bible.  It has the supernatural ability to speak to each individual and thoroughly transform lives.  Each time we immerse ourselves in the Word, we get another glimpse of the One who created us; another chance to see ourselves as He sees us, and to serve Him out of an abundance of gratitude.  Let His Word be a lamp to your feet [as you proceed forth, doing all that He commands], and a light to your path [as it guides you in the footsteps of Jesus].

Isaiah 55:11    “So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it”.

Matthew 7:1

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Judge not, that you be not judged.

     This familiar verse is perhaps one of the most mis-rendered and abused Scriptures in the Bible. The enemies of our faith love to throw this passage up to us as evidence of Christian hypocrisy.  They use it to malign and vilify our faith walk and to prove that our moral standards and beliefs are just a pretense; a false display of moral superiority.  Sadly, their accusations are oftentimes true.
     But today I want to show how the Enemy has used this verse to lie to Unbelievers and hide the true meaning of Jesus’s words.  Satan has convinced the unfaithful that this verse means Jesus was commanding a universal acceptance of any lifestyle or teaching; that no one is to judge another.  As with all of Scripture, there is much more depth to the Word than our human minds are willing to explore.
     In Matthew, Chapter 7, verses 1-20, Jesus expands on this subject of judgment and gives His followers [throughout the Ages] advice on how to live a life that is pleasing to God.  A few verses later (Matthew 7:15-16), He is admonishing us to be on the lookout for false prophets; people who will mislead us by appearing to be someone they are not. In other words, He commands us to know people by the fruit of their life, and some sort of assessment (judgment) is necessary for that.
     Here is the Truth … The Christian is called to unconditionally love. But the Christian is not called to unconditional agreement or endorsement. It is absolutely possible to love people who do things that should not be approved of. So, here is the underlying principle of Matthew 7:1 … Jesus is speaking against being judgmental in terms of judging the motives of the inner (or spiritual) man, which only God can know. However, we can judge the fruit of a man’s spirit, because the fruit, or lack thereof, is visible for all to see. It is certainly reasonable to make a judgment if someone is exhibiting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control. But if they are not, we can rarely judge the motives of their spirit with any accuracy. Do you see the difference?
     Of course, we cannot ignore Jesus’s admonition that our judgment be completely fair, and that we only judge others by a standard with which we would like to be judged.  Don’t miss this point: Jesus does not prohibit judgment of others — only that it be fair and equivalent. In the very next verse, Jesus says, With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  According to the teaching of some rabbis in Jesus’ time, God had two measures that He used to judge people. One was a measure of justice and the other was a measure of mercy. Which measure do you want God to use with you? Then you should use that same measure with others.
     Of course we are all familiar with the verses about removing the plank from our own eye before pointing out the speck in our brother’s eye.  Satan has taught the enemies of our faith to focus on the hypocritical plank in the eye of Christians.  But note that Jesus doesn’t say that it is wrong for us to help our brother with the speck in his eye. He is just saying that it is a good thing to help your brother with his speck — but not before dealing with the plank in your own eye. Not only will you be able to see clearer, but after suffering the pain of your own sin, you will deal with your brother with a measure of mercy.  
     And I just love how our Lord wraps up this whole discussion on judgment:  Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. Dogs and swine, in this context, are those who are hostile to the gospel and our faith. And it is imperative that we view The Word as holy, sacred, and revered.  As much as we are to have mercy in our judgment of others, and evaluate them only by the fruit of their actions, our love for others must not blind us to their hardened rejection of the gospel, if that be the case… Nor cast your pearls before swine: Our pearls are the precious hope and knowledge of the gospel.  Jesus is telling us to be mindful that the Gospel Message may only confuse unbelievers, who are blinded to the truth by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4).  But it is our responsibility to be careful about exposing the gospel to the ridicule of such haters.
     So, while our culture and the world doesn’t like the concept of judgment and judging others, it will ultimately be the purview and scope of Jesus when He returns.  We will all stand before the Judgment Seat as Jesus brings to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of each of our hearts. It is time that we ALL get ready for the Judgment that is to come… so it’s time to quit worrying about your neighbor judging you, and be aware that the Son of God is coming to judge the living and the dead. How will HE judge you? 
     
     

Psalm 33:12

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Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…

     I have tried to stay away from political commentary and concentrate on what the Holy Spirit reveals to me.  But in the wake of Friday’s inauguration of our 45th President, I was quite moved at the emphasis on our God in the opening prayers.  I will leave the commentary on the President’s inaugural speech to those who are more astute at political analysis than I.  But I do want to give a short and visceral response, prompted by the reaction of my spirit.
     First, let me say that I knew on Thursday afternoon, as the pre-inauguration concert came to an end, and the Marine Band sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with all the reverence and respect that those words evoke, that perhaps we were going to see this event in terms that transcended politics.  I will honestly tell you that when the last verse was sung. slowly and deliberately … In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me: As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free, While God is marching on … I felt my spirit stir, and I could not hold back the tears — not because I was stirred by the patriotism, but because there was such honor and reverence for our God in picking that song to kick off our nation’s transference of power weekend.
     I will say that post-event, in spite of all the attempts by political wonks and hacks to derail the power of President Trump’s inauguration speech, I was more focused on the opening prayers.  For the first time, in a long time, there did not appear to be an effort towards ecumenicalism, or a global inclusion of false gods.  The Christian-Judeo God was at the center of each prayer; the One True God, and I can’t help but think that Satan, the Enemy of YHWH, was dealt a tremendous blow. For the first time — in a long time — it seemed that there was a declaration that we are a Christian nation!
     Cardinal Timothy Dolan offered the first of six prayers by various faith leaders, praying from King Solomon’s Book of Wisdom:  “Lord God, God of our ancestors … in Your Providence, You have charged us to rule the creatures produced by You; to govern the world in [Your] Holiness and Righteousness, and to render [Your] Judgment with integrity of heart.  Give us wisdom, for we are Your servants … Send Wisdom from Your Glorious Throne in Heaven; dispatch her to us that we might discern what is pleasing to You…”.
     The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez incorporated Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in his prayer offering, emphasizing God’s desire that His people represent His Kingdom on Earth.  Paula White, whom the press has labeled as President Trumps’s “spiritual advisor” began her prayer with “Dear Heavenly Father, in the Name of Jesus, … we recognize that every perfect gift and purpose comes from You … Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done … Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… we pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
     Bishop Wayne Jackson of Detroit prayed that God would give President Trump the wisdom of Solomon, the vision of Joseph, and the meekness of Christ. And then he bestowed the Aaronic blessing upon the President and the nation:  The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His face on you and give you peace.
     Rabbi Marvin Hier invoked the blessings of the Eternal God: “May the days come soon, when Justice will dwell in the wilderness; and Righteousness will abide in the fertile fields; and the work of Righteousness will be peace, quietness, and confidence forever. Amen.”
     The Rev. Franklin Graham quoted from 1 Timothy, Chapter 2:  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…”.  And then to make sure that we heard the Divine Truth, he repeated one verse: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.  He continued:  “Now to the King Eternal; the only God; Honor and Glory forever and ever.  In Jesus’s Name. Amen”.
     To be honest with you, I couldn’t quite believe my ears.  Only one God was magnified on Inauguration Day … YHWH, who is the God of Israel, the Most High God, and the One True God!  There was no attempt to make Him equal to the lesser gods of the world; nor to diminish His Authority or place in our history.  I heard the Word expressed in all its infinite Power, and it felt good to my spirit!
     But I want us to be mindful.  Before the Inaugural event even began, the Enemy has infiltrated the media and there were undisguised attempts to cast doubt on the characters of those pastors who spoke Biblical Truth.  I am not going to attempt to defend or deny these men and women.  I am only assessing the faithfulness and trustworthiness of their prayers.  
     No one can say if this turning towards God will last for our generation and into the future, or if it will be fleeting.  But for now — for this moment in time — the magnificence of my God was glorified, and I felt He was pleased.  May we continue to exalt Him, and may His Name be preserved in the government of our nation forever.
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:  As I consider the Prayer Service that took place the next morning at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., my spirit is somewhat troubled that the Service included prayers on behalf of faiths not recognized by YHWH.  And I fully understand that my comment would be seen as politically incorrect by most secularists, and some Christians. But I am not concerned with how the world looked upon this holy occasion; I am only concerned with how my God regarded it. In light of the fact that the Inauguration praised and magnified Jesus Christ, and the God of Israel, how would YHWH look upon exalting other gods the very next morning?
     I understood that as the Leader of the United States, our President is expected to honor all the peoples of this nation; peoples of different ethnicities and faiths.  But how did YHWH look upon those prayers to false gods?  Then my wise husband reminded me of Revelation 5:10:  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.  
      I know that we are called to rule and reign [in partnership with Jesus] in establishing God’s Kingdom here on earth. But we are also called to be priests.  And what did God establish as the role of a priest? It is to atone for the sins of the nation.  So I can pray to my God, and as His priest, I can ask that the sins of praying to other gods be transferred to me, whereby I will repent of them, and asking for forgiveness, trusting that they will be covered in the blood of Jesus. This Prayer Service could then be cleaned and purged of all unrighteousness. It in no way excuses or approves of the sin; but in fact, shows recognition of the affront to my God, and a willingness to atone for the iniquity. Please, Dear God, forgive us of our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.



Finding Peace in Challenging Times

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Choosing the path of peace can be a challenging task on a good day. On a bad day, it can feel downright impossible. The constant ups and downs in life are a given. They’re largely uncontrollable. But you can control your response to them. You can learn to feel peaceful in challenging times.

When The Presence Of God Seems Hidden

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     Yesterday I addressed how it feels when you think God doesn’t see you or hear you.  Today I want to focus on how we think and feel when it seems as if we can’t see or hear God.  I’m talking about the “hiddenness” of God; but not from the aspect of nonbelievers, who will say, if God existed, then God would make His existence more obvious. God is not obvious. Therefore, God does not exist.
     This is not about God deliberately hiding His presence.  It’s about those times in our lives when we, who have been in real relationship with Him, can’t find Him or hear His voice.  It’s about those crises of faith that have us asking why He has seemingly abandoned us, or is at least choosing to not communicate with us.

     If you have been one who has enjoyed an easy and intimate relationship with God — received answers to your prayers, and seen evidence of His presence during times of trouble — then the notable lack of His appearance becomes cause for concern.  And if you have advanced to a level of relationship where your spirit can approach His throne room and ask for heavenly power and a call to action — and then He seems to be absent or silent, it can begin to raise doubts in our spirit. And  if the problem persists, then it can lead to a crisis of faith; or worse, sometimes a collapse of trust in God.
      But if you have experienced an intimate relationship with God in the past, and are now facing a “dry spell” in that partnership, you must not forget that He is the Unchangeable and Ever-Present God. Perhaps He is preparing to do a work in your life and is waiting to see the level of commitment you have to Him.  Maybe He is waiting to see if you are willing to press into Him when the going gets rough and His presence isn’t easily discerned.  And just maybe there are places He wants to take you, but you have to be willing to walk by faith, not by sight.
     That is a time-worn motto of the Church … we walk by faith, not by sight.  But if you are a Christian who has developed a spiritual relationship with God (communing with Him in the spirit and being accustomed to His presence), then the absence of that intimacy might really challenge your faith walk.  But that is the time to “press into God”.
     What do I mean by that?  It means to seek God and to keep on seeking Him, even when you have no clear evidence that He is there.  It means to seek to know Him and His righteousness when your world is falling down around you.  It means surrendering yourself and your life to Him because you have nowhere else (and no one) to turn to. And it means trusting that He is there, waiting on you to take a step towards Him, instead of sitting back and expecting Him to come to you.
     I have a very dear friend who is pressing into new depths in her relationship with God. She has met Jesus in her spirit and He has shown her how much He values her and what is possible when she decides to move towards Him.  She has been through some devastating trials in her life, and has just recently learned to seek Jesus in the spirit and press into Him. While He has healed her emotional and spiritual wounds, and is helping her to deal with changes in her life, He is also showing her that her future depends on her making the next move.  He is not there to orchestrate her every step, but is waiting for her to put her faith into action to receive the future He has planned for her.  She doesn’t know what that might be, but because she has pressed into Him, even when He doesn’t seem to be present, she is excited about stepping out in faith.  The unknown future no longer scares her because she knows He has something spectacular to give her; something He has been preparing for her since He knit her in the womb.  And because she has walked by faith, and not by sight — and because she has pushed through her trials to be in the very presence of God — she is excited to receive her inheritance as the daughter of the King!

     Unfortunately, an experience she had with trying to go through the Church to help her deal with her personal trauma and ordeals was met with a legalistic attitude.  She tried to share what God was showing her and the new depths she was reaching with Him, but they wanted to shove her, and God, into a traditional and Pharisaical box. They wanted her to observe the strict external form of religion without regard to the spirit.  As she sat in dismay, her dejected spirit saw angelic soldiers in full spiritual armor shaking their heads in consternation, and she left the Church in tears.  I can only imagine how that grieved God’s Holy Spirit.
     But she is determined to seek God on her own and press into Him, despite the Church.  And she is enthusiastic about what God has in store for her. Her greatest joy is found in spending time in God’s presence and contending with God’s Spirit for more of Him. She is learning to love the time she spends with Him, and it is preparing her for any future “dry spells” that are sure to come her way. She has stepped outside the comfort zone of conventional religion and has turned a life that looks destroyed [from the outside] into a spiritual relationship worth celebrating!  Jesus was her last resort, and she didn’t let the fact that she couldn’t see Him or hear Him [in the wreckage of her life] stop her from reaching out for Him. She accepted His invitation for healing, let Him validate and strengthen her, and is now ready to trust in the authority and power He has given her to walk out her faith.
     Don’t get caught up in the Enemy’s lie that you need Jesus to hold your hand every minute of every day.  Don’t buy into the deception that you’re incapable of defeating the devil on your own.  You have been given the very power that God gave Jesus.  His presence is in you and you can have the confidence that you will be a Victor, just as He was. So, if you happen to be in a spiritual desert at the moment, and you can’t hear or see God, then wait for Him; pressing into Him and pushing through to a relationship that I promise you will be supernatural and rewarding!

Psalm 2:1-5    “My son, if you will receive My words
and treasure My commandments within you, so that your ear is attentive to [skillful and Godly] wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding [seeking it conscientiously and striving for it eagerly]; yes, if you cry out for insight, and lift up your voice for understanding; if you seek skillful and Godly wisdom as you would silver and search for her as you would hidden treasures; then you will understand the [reverent] fear of the Lord [that is, worshiping Him and regarding Him as truly awesome] and discover the knowledge of God.”
   

Luke 4:43

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 But He said, “I must preach [the good news of] the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because I was sent for this purpose.”

Today’s blog post is Part One of a two-part teaching my husband and I presented to our Home Church on “The Kingdom of God”.  Part One is an overview of why we need to understand and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.  Tomorrow, I will present Part Two, which takes a look at what Jesus meant by “The mystery of the Kingdom”.     
     I want to present an idea that is clearly explained in the Bible, yet we, as the Body of Christ, don’t recognize it.  As elucidated in Luke 4:43, the purpose of Jesus’s coming was to announce that the Kingdom of God would be established on earth.  Christians today, however, tend to focus on His message of Salvation, and we rarely proclaim what He taught about the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, which are the same thing. Remember that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”(Matthew 6:33).  Salvation was not his primary focus … the Kingdom of God was.
     Jesus is teaching His disciples the importance of knowing what He meant by the Kingdom of God, and making sure they knew it was His purpose; why He was sent. And when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, He spoke in terms of a real government—a structured, organized entity with the very authority of God behind it. (Certain rulers who heard Christ’s message recognized the political implications and viewed His words as a threat to their own power. This became a factor in Christ’s eventual crucifixion).  
     But God is a God of order.  To Jesus and His disciples, the term “Kingdom of God” meant a government that would be established on earth. They anticipated that its arrival would amount to nothing less than a sweeping, overwhelming change in the world order.
    We also need to recognize that there are two different fulfillments we need to consider when discussing the Kingdom of God:  1) The Bible shows that when the Kingdom comes in the future, the returning Christ will take His place as divine ruler of the earth.  It is a literal Kingdom on earth, with Jesus as the ruler. 2) Since the Kingdom is wherever the King rules, if He is the ruler of your heart, then the spiritual Kingdom of God exists in you HERE AND NOW.  
     It’s interesting, in light of these two fulfillments, to contemplate the chapter of Matthew 13, which consists entirely of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And He answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” Notice that He doesn’t say you have been given the knowledge of Salvation … No! He was teaching them about the significance of the Kingdom of Heaven and why it was important, both in the present and in the future.
     In each of the parables in Matthew 13, Jesus presents an argument that begins with, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”.  I don’t know about you, but I have read those parables so many times, and I never made the connection that they all pointed to the Kingdom of Heaven.  I looked for a lesson in each one, but did not recognize that He was giving us valuable information that pertained to Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.  Let me give you a short synopsis on each of the parables and why it was important to Jesus that we get this concept. I recommend that you read these parables in Matthew, Chapter 13, with a new spiritual eye towards The Kingdom of God.
The Parable of the Sower:  Each soil represents one of four responses to the teaching of the kingdom.
The Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Weeds):  There was corruption in the Kingdom, but it will be sorted out at harvest time.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed:  (This was the most fascinating to me!)  This parable accurately describes what the kingdom community became in the decades and centuries after the Christianization of the Roman Empire. In those centuries the Church grew abnormally large in influence and dominion, and was a nest for much corruption.  Close study of birds as symbols in the Old Testament, and especially in the literature of later Judaism, shows that birds regularly symbolize evil and even demons or Satan.
The Parable of the Leaven:  Three measures is far more leaven than is needed to make bread, and represents the addition of corruption and impurity through “paganizing influences” introduced into the Kingdom.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure: The man is Jesus and this parable speaks of how highly the King values the people of His kingdom.  The treasure that is so wonderful that Jesus would give all to purchase is the individual believer. This powerfully shows how Jesus gave everything to redeem the whole world to preserve a treasure in it, and the treasure is His people.
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value:  Again, Jesus is the buyer and the individual believer is the pearl that He sees as so valuable that He would happily give all to have it forever.  To the ancient peoples that Jesus was speaking to, a pearl was the loveliest of all possessions; Jesus is telling them that the people of His Kingdom are the most valuable thing to Him.
The Parable of the (Drag)Net: Jesus shows that the world will remain divided right up until the end, and the Church will not reform the world.  The King will return, the angels will assist the King in the work of judgment, and He will establish His Kingdom on earth.
     As I studied further about Jesus’s teachings on the Kingdom of God, I began to understand how the early Church might have been confused about it’s significance, and how that has translated to near ignorance on the part of the modern Church.
     The hope of the early church was that the Lord would return in the clouds to establish a Kingdom of peace and justice.  That is what Jesus preached!  They had yet to learn that the Kingdom was in them! The Disciples believed in the literal return and reign of Christ on earth.  Jesus, Himself, said in Matthew 25:31, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”  He goes on to say in verse 32, that He will then judge the nations, separating the sheep from the goats. But He also told them in Luke 17:21:  “You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”  We can see both the future and the present Kingdoms of God presented here.
     So, how have we come to lose the importance of Jesus’s message about the Kingdom of God?  It began to change through the centuries as follows: The Church began to limit the idea of the Kingdom of God to just mean the 1,000 year reign of Christ in the Millennial Kingdom.  While The Kingdom of God and the Millennial Kingdom aren’t the same, they do overlap. Then theologians began arguing if the Millennial Kingdom was literal or allegorical. The early Church fathers Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian believed in a literal Millennial Kingdom. In the 3rd Century, Origen was the first to present the allegorical theory. Then just a few years later, Augustine changed the theory even more.  He “identified the Church with the Kingdom of God and maintained that the millennial age had already come”.  In his highly influential book The City of God, Augustine wrote: “Therefore the Church, even now, is the kingdom of Christ, and the kingdom of heaven” (Book XX, Chapter 9). In essence, Augustine taught that the Church in this present world is the Kingdom of God, and “the thousand years stand for all the years of the Christian era”. 
     We need to remember that the Hebrew prophets showed that the arrival of God’s Kingdom on earth would bring worldwide peace, physical abundance and divine righteousness.  Isaiah 2:4 tells us that He will judge among the nations, and rebuke many people; that people will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; and that nations won’t lift their swords against other nations, and man will learn war no more.
     But history shows us that the “Christian era” or “the Church era” that Augustine equated with God’s Kingdom has been a time of violence, war, starvation and widespread lawlessness.  We certainly can’t say mankind is no longer learning war!  So the Church, in this “Age of Grace,” has obviously not spread Jesus’s Gospel Message about the Kingdom of God! 
     Continuing from the historical perspective, in the 18th Century mankind adopted “the Age of Reason”, and instead of basing all knowledge in Biblical revelation, they tried to build on the foundation of human reason.  Theologians that adopted this concept believed that “Western civilization was establishing Christ’s earthly rule”. And they began to teach that Mankind was “improving” and through our human power and ingenuity we could establish a righteous world. (SIDE NOTE:  We’ve left the “righteousness” part of that world equation behind, and now through our human power and ingenuity, we’re going to “improve” through transhumanism).
     Those theologians also taught that as the Church, we should set good examples of Christian living, which would influence society and culture… we haven’t done a very good job of that if you look at our society today. And even though that idea was preached by the theologians of the day, the Church received no commission to politically reform the society by seeking God’s righteousness, and from the Roman Empire on, we have NOT seen the governments of the world conform to what Jesus said the Kingdom of God was: a structured, organized entity with the very authority of God behind it.  And throughout the centuries, the Church has not preached that as a goal!  Instead, church members heard from their leaders that they should hope and pray for God’s Kingdom to come, while concentrating on the Salvation message.
     That literal Kingdom on earth WILL COME and Jesus WILL be the Divine Ruler of His Kingdom on earth.  In that sense the Kingdom of God is future and we look forward to our inheritance. BUT the Kingdom of God also refers to the King’s realm into which we may now enter to experience the blessings of His reign in our hearts.  REMEMBER:  the parable of the Sower is all about what is sown in our hearts; that’s the personal realm that Jesus concentrated on and wants to be King of.
     So, in this earthly realm, it is perhaps easier to comprehend that the Kingdom of God exists in our hearts.  Our spirits give us hints that He is there, and our souls (our minds, emotions and will) will show us He is real and there is evidence of Him — IF WE SEEK THE KINGDOM OF GOD FIRST.  
     As for the literal establishment of God’s Kingdom at the return of Christ, God’s timetable may differ from man’s. God does not allow man to foresee the chronological details of His plan, but the outcome is certain. God will do what He has promised. 
     Finally, here is the really important concept I hope you will grasp … After the true biblical teaching of the Kingdom of God was removed, the gospel message was changed from the message about the Kingdom to a message primarily about Jesus Christ.  It would become a message that Christianity would triumph over its enemies in the world. And it was a message that faith in Jesus would yield eternal salvation … both true, but these were not the “Good News” that Jesus had come to preach, nor the purpose for which He was sent.  (Re-read the Scripture at the top of this page). In other words, Christianity kept the name of Jesus Christ, but abandoned His message.
Tomorrow I will explore the “secrets” or the “mystery” of the Kingdom of God.  

Validation By A Vision

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     I wrote yesterday’s blog post out of a sincere desire to help several close Christian friends overcome their reticence to letting Jesus set them free.  To be honest, I was beginning to feel as if I was failing them and Jesus because I have been unable to convince them of what my spirit is screaming is His Truth!  I have tried using Scripture to validate what has been revealed to me, but more often than not, these dear Christians are so entrenched in the Church interpretation of the Word, that they look at me with doubtful concern: “I can see that possibility, but it’s not what I’ve been taught my whole life.”  And the conversation usually ends there.
     Even those who have seen family members healed of their spiritual wounds [and are desperately searching for a way out of their own bondage] just can’t bring themselves to step outside the box. Something is holding them back; they are listening to a lie; and I haven’t been able to convince them that Jesus is bigger than we’ve allowed Him to be.

     So, I have, admittedly, been struggling. After expressing myself yesterday, through my writing, as candidly [and as creatively] as I could — hoping that I could find some way;  any way to help them understand a new insight to this powerful and innovative and unique God we serve — I found myself on my knees last night… and unable to pray.
     I honestly didn’t know what to pray; or how to pray for a breakthrough.  I had tried praying for ministering angels to reveal God’s Truth to them, as it had been revealed to me.  I tried praying, in the Name of Jesus, for specific spirits and strongholds to be bound and cast off my friends.  I tried going, in my spirit, to the throne room of God, where I knew [in confidence] that I could ask for mercy and find grace to help in [this] time of need. But all my prayers seemed flat and shallow.  As I climbed into bed, I didn’t feel defeated; but certainly deflated.
     Then, as I often do, when my spirit needs to connect with God, I awoke in the early hours of the morning.  Just past 4 a.m., I lay there wide awake, still struggling with how to get my friends delivered from the spiritual darkness they were experiencing.  But I couldn’t even focus my mind enough to pray coherently.  I was wide awake, staring at the ceiling, and it was as if my mind was trying to find its way through a foggy maze.  I couldn’t form a plan of prayerful attack against the Enemy.  So I just closed my eyes in the dark, and started telling myself, Be still and know that He is God… Be still and know that He is God.  And I tried to picture, in my spirit, the Light of the Glory of God… the Light shining in the darkness.
     I don’t know how to explain it in any other way, but the next thing I was cognizant of was that I was part of something like a mini-movie playing in my head.  I knew on some level that it was a dream, and it was like I was watching it; but it was also like I was one of the actors in this scenario.  The story played out like this:  Set in the early 1930s or so, a man and his family are traveling in their old pickup, when it develops engine trouble.  They limp into this small town, where they are greeted with hospitality by a man who seems to be the leader of the town. This leader also says he’ll be glad to help get the truck repaired, and invites them to stay a few days while he arranges for the truck to be hauled away to the shop.
     Now in this “dream”, I seem to be playing the part of the husband, who gets his wife and two kids settled in, while he strolls about this town, getting a feel for its citizens.  He quickly senses a reserve and restraint about the townspeople; they seem skittish and nervous.  The husband (me) tries to ask a few questions… what do the townspeople do for a living?  Is it a good town to raise a family? One of the men approaches him, looking over his shoulder, as if worried he will be caught doing something forbidden, and reveals that no one is allowed to do anything but what the Leader permits them to do.  No one is free to pursue his or her own interests.  The husband asks, Then why don’t you leave?  The townsman looks aghast and frightened at this suggestion!  Oh, that’s impossible!  The Leader won’t allow it!
     At this point in the “dream”, the scene switches to the Leader returning from taking care of the family’s truck, and now I’m playing the part of the wife.  I ask him what news he has on our truck, and he replies that he has taken care of the repairs and it will cost us $800.  Well, that was a fortune in the Depression of the 1930s, and I inform him that we don’t have that kind of money! And the Leader informs me that we will be unable to leave since he holds this debt over our heads.  I boldly scream at him, My husband will never give in to your demands, while the terrified townspeople look on, unable to believe that I would dare to stand up to the feared Leader.
     At that moment, the husband (me again) appears on the scene, questions us about the uproar, and declares to the Leader that he will not be subject to his dictates.  He gathers his family up, and standing in the town square, declares to all the surrounding townspeople that we are leaving; we will not be bullied or intimidated by this tyrant.  But the townspeople respond with astonishment and consternation… How can you leave? We are all prisoners here, subject to his command! And we don’t have the keys to unlock the gates to the town!
     The husband (me) looks at the panic-stricken townsfolk with pity in his eyes and heart.  Folks, you don’t need keys… there are no locked gates on this town.  You have been free to leave anytime you wanted to.  This deceitful and wicked man only had you convinced you could never leave.  Your freedom has always been there.  All you had to do was walk away from him and his lies.
     Suddenly I was awake from this strange “dream”.  It had been 2 1/2 hours since I had begun telling myself to Be still, and know that He is God.  But I had just “watched” and “participated in” what seemed like a full-length movie, in all its detail, color, and emotion.  It was as clear and visible in my mind as if I had just walked out of a movie theatre. I was baffled as I woke my husband up and told him the strange event I had experienced in my sleep.  It was such a strange little story; like it was perfectly scripted for my personal screening.  But I wondered, why that particular story line… I couldn’t really see any purpose to the plot.  

     Then it hit me!  It was an answer to my struggling attempt at prayer the night before!  God was showing me that I couldn’t make people see the truth of their bondage, anymore than I could (as the husband in my “dream”) make the townspeople see that they didn’t have to live by the dictates of the deceitful Leader.  Satan lies to us and convinces us that we can’t escape our chains, and that we live in an invisible fortress of bondage.  It’s easy to keep us in those chains, too, because he knows that too many of us will never believe that all we have to do is walk away towards the Freedom that Jesus offers.
     I will tell you that I have never had a “dream” like that before!  And I rarely remember every detail and conversation and emotion in sequential order, and in such lucid images.  My husband said, “I think God just gave you a vision”.  At first, I didn’t want to accept that because that isn’t any kind of language (or concept) that we modern and Western Christians embrace with any comfort or agreement.  But I then realized just how similar my experience was to what I have been studying in Acts, Chapter 10.
     Peter, who found himself outside the norm of Jewish tradition and Law, was staying with Simon, the tanner, in Joppa.  For a law-keeping Jew of that time, it was strictly forbidden to associate with anyone who routinely worked with dead animals. And according to Jewish Law, a tanner had to live at least 75 feet outside a village because of his ritual uncleanness.
     But God was laying a groundwork in Peter’s heart for a new concept that He needed him to understand, and Peter is less concerned about Jewish traditions and ceremonial notions than he was before.  Boy, can I relate to that!  This whole ministry that God has laid on me and my husband’s hearts necessitates that we be willing to look outside the Western Church’s traditions and rituals! And it has certainly set us apart from our fellow Christians.
     And what did God do next with Peter?  While he was praying on Simon the tanner’s rooftop, the Bible relates what it calls “Peter’s Vision”.  Scripture actually says he fell “into a trance”.  Now this happens to Peter around noon, hence the description of a trance.  I would submit to you that if it had happened in the night or early morning hours, it would have been described as a dream.
     So, Peter’s dream is every bit as clear and focused and vivid as mine was.  He even partakes in a conversation with God, and the dream comes to a definitive end.  It is not disjointed or disordered; it is articulated with a precise message.  And Scripture says “Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant”.  Like Peter, I searched for meaning and significance.  And, I will tell you that when it is that strong an image in your mind, you know how different it is from other dreams you’ve had.
     I understand that the traditional Church, [and perhaps many of you] will be unable to accept what I have related.  It will be rejected as my own rationalization or justification, and it is just too far outside the realm of “acceptable” Christian experience.  But I know in my heart and spirit, that it was a clarification from God.  It articulated the struggles and frustrations I have been facing, and validated that I am on the right path.  I was shown that I may not be able to change thoughts and theology in a Christian’s mind, but I am to continue declaring what I see as God’s Truth.  It is then up to each Christian to decide if they are too afraid to challenge the invisible chains imposed by the Prince of this world — or if they will take that life-affirming step and walk through the gates toward Freedom.  All I know is that I have been given encouragement and motivation to continue my walk with My Lord, and it was beyond extraordinary — it was supernatural!

Ephesians 3:20-21   “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Coffee and Sin: Living Life with a Focus on God

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Are you living your life with a focus on God? Or are you always, in a hundred little ways, focusing on sin in your life and that of others? It’s an important question. It’s so important that I believe it affects every aspect of your spiritual life. In fact, your focus will determine whether you struggle daily with sin or whether you almost consider it a non-issue. Crazy, thought, I realize, if you absolutely know that all Christians must struggle daily with sin. Let’s imagine, if you will, that this cup of coffee represents sin. Any sin. All sin. Whatever

Zechariah 12:8

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In that day the Lord will defend the people of Jerusalem, and the one who is impaired among them in that day [of persecution] will become [strong and noble] like David; and the house of David will be like God, like the Angel of the Lord [who is] before them. 

     Regarding our nation’s recent statements on the U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements, I will have more to say on that tomorrow.  But today, I will let the Bible make its own statement(s).
     From the beginning of her history, the nation of Israel has been beset by surrounding nations, who have declared themselves her enemies.  Nothing has changed in 3,000 years.  Whether it be via the Canaanites, or the modern-day Palestinians, the nations of the world have aligned themselves against the people of God.  But what the world has never understood is the truth as expressed in Zechariah 12:8 — that God can [and will] supernaturally protect and defend Israel against attack — especially His eternal city, Jerusalem.
     As evidenced by today’s battle over the capital city, the Arab peoples surrounding Jerusalem have a passion for possessing the city that, upon historical and religious analysis, does not appear to be justified.  Muslims claim Jerusalem as their third-holiest city, but Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran. In fact, Jerusalem’s importance to Muslims comes from the belief that in the Dome of the Rock shrine there is a rock where two significant things happened: 1) where Abraham intended to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and 2) where Mohammed allegedly ascended into heaven. Though this tradition is firmly rooted in the Muslim mind, it is of recent origin. It was invented by Yasser Arafat’s uncle – Haj Amin el-Husseini, who was the past Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. He promoted this myth in the 1920’s and 1930’s to arouse Arab passions against the growing Jewish presence in Jerusalem.
     The Dome of the Rock was built not because of the Koran, but because the Muslim ruler, Abdal-Malik, wanted to gain revenue from pilgrims and worshippers, and because he wanted to prevent the rebuilding of a Jewish Temple.  The Temple in Jerusalem has always been recognized as the dwelling place of YHWH, and followers of foreign gods have done everything they could to prevent God’s Presence from being established in Jerusalem.
     In the recent decades of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel was willing to concede almost everything to the Palestinians in an amazing willingness to make peace. The only thing Israel would not concede was sovereignty over Jerusalem. The recent problems between Jews and the Arab world may have centered around Israeli settlements, but at the heart of it has alway been this one sticking point: Jerusalem.
      The one thing that cannot be argued is that the Jewish claim to the city is entirely Scriptural. As the late Christian apologist, Dave Hunt, wrote in The Berean Call, “The very fact that Jerusalem is mentioned more than 800 times in the Bible makes it worthy of special attention. This unique city is the only one upon which God has bestowed His distinctive blessing and protection, and the only city for whose peace we are commanded to pray. God says He has chosen Jerusalem as the place where He has put His name forever. The new heavens and new earth will contain ‘the city of my God…new Jerusalem’. That there will be a ‘heavenly Jerusalem’, but no ‘heavenly’ New York, Paris, London, Damascus, Cairo, etc. speaks volumes.”
     What is even more astonishing is that in Zechariah 12:4, just a few verses prior to the one I have chosen, God tells us, And in that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will come and be gathered against it. 
     We see that being fulfilled in the U.N. resolution this past week.  Who could have imagined when the Old Testament was written that all the nations of the world would be involved in deciding the fate of Israel? And this involvement of all nations in dividing Israel has occurred exactly as prophesied and is still in the process of being implemented. 
     But the nations of the world would do well to contemplate what YHWH says in verse 8… The feeblest among the people of Jerusalem will be like King David; men of war, bold and brave, skillful and strong. The Angel of the Lord will go before them, just as He did in the Exodus and their establishment in the Land.  He will guard His eternal city in supernatural power.  And like God, the city and the people will maintain their supremacy in the world.  
    This Scripture gives us, the Faithful, the hope and knowledge that men and their councils will never destroy Israel’s place in the world, as guaranteed by the Lord.  And as a last thought… perhaps the nations of the world should pay heed to the next verse in Zechariah.  Verse 9 says, And in that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.  The United Nations and the leaders of the world would do well to listen to the voice of God.
     
   
      

The Holiday Blues: A Heavenly Assessment

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     How many times have you heard people describe some degree of depression after the holidays? If you scour the internet, you will find all kinds of reasons that people suffer “the blues” during and after the holidays: feeling isolated and without close connections to family or friends; grieving over the loss of loved ones; unrealistic expectations and comparing your life with others; lack of self-care; the feeling that something has ended. All these can contribute to a sense of despair and hopelessness.
    I can understand these feelings of melancholy if you are a secularist or have no faith in God. But if we are Christians, then we need to embrace the Truths about who we are in Christ — the Truths that Satan would like to keep hidden so he can keep us living in defeat and bondage. So, if you are a Believer and yet find yourself feeling despondent or dejected today, let me remind you of a few things:

1.  You are created in the image of God.  I don’t think there are very many of us who can even comprehend what that means.  We are created just a little lower than God, Himself, and there is no other created creature that occupies that distinguished position.  There is something about us that is like God and that makes us exceptional and extraordinary.
2.  God planned us before He made the world. Before the very foundations of the world were formed, God knew that He wanted to create you. And He made you to be an eternal being, living in His image. Your existence has been planned before the beginning of this earth, and whether you were planned by your earthly parents or not, you were planned by God and you are here because He wanted you here. God has orchestrated your life, your family and your story to be perfectly individual. Rejoice in that knowledge!
3.  As His special creation, we get to create others in His image. That is a privilege that not even angels can claim, nor any other creature in heaven or earth.  And, if by some chance, you have not been granted the opportunity to create another human being, then know that God has another plan for you. All of us have worth in His eyes, and none are born without significance to His Kingdom.
4.  Only we humans have been redeemed.  God didn’t lift a finger to try and reclaim His relationship with any of the fallen angels.  There is no other created being for whom God has sacrificed Himself to save from His wrath.  We are indeed valuable to Him!
5.  Only we have been entrusted with the Holy Spirit.  The very breath of God has been given to us who believe in Jesus, the Messiah. That should tell us how much our Father in Heaven wishes to be connected to us. To have God abiding in you should fill you with the immensity of His love for you, and His desire to share the same Authority and Power [with you] that He gave to Jesus. There is no reason to ever feel that life is defeating you! The very power of heaven is a part of you!
6.  Only we have been adopted into God’s family.  We are joint heirs with Jesus.  We can say that our Daddy is the King! And as the children of God, we are princes and princesses in His Kingdom.  What’s more, the spirit realm sees us this way; they see that we hold a special position and they are jealous.
7.  When God wanted to incarnate Himself, He chose to become like us.  As Creator of the Universe, He could have become like anything else He created.  But He didn’t come to earth as some imposing or formidable animal, or even as a majestic angel.  He came as a man, and never once resorted to His Deity.  And when He left this earth, He left as the man, Jesus, who now sits on the right hand of God in the heavenly realm.  He identifies with you and understands your experiences and emotions; your triumphs and your obstacles.
8.  He never returned to simply being God. This very moment, the man, Jesus, is interceding on your behalf before the throne of God, as your personal advocate.  He referred to Himself, while on earth, as the Son of Man, so He relates to you and understands you. If you want to know how special you are to Him, then contemplate this… He worked out the entire plan of salvation as a human, with the Power and Authority He received from God, our Father, and then He gave that same power and authority to us! Nothing can defeat us — unless we let it!
     If you call yourself a Christian, then these are very identifiable and defining characteristics of who you are. As you contemplate each one, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how these Truths elevate you above the cares of this world. Any feelings of depression or sadness are unjustifiable when we recognize who we are!  Don’t let Satan or his demons convince you that any of these Truths don’t apply to you. These holidays are simply man-made festivals designed to make us look to each other, or the world, for our value. They have nothing to do with God, or His Glory, or our true identity.  In His eyes, we are so much more than the perception the world mirrors back at us. Look to your Father in Heaven; your intercessor, Jesus Christ; and your Counselor and Guide, the Holy Spirit, for your true identity, and savor the sweet satisfaction in your spirit. Then let go of everything else!

I want to thank and give credit to Dr. Charles Kraft for his wise insight in his sermon “Do You Know Who You Are?”

1 John 5:4   “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Best wishes for 2017

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Meerrrrry Chrisssssttttmmmmmmmasass!!! To all my friends, family, coworkers, and compradres…thank you for your friendship, fun, laughter, tears, and smiles. I hope the holidays bring you joy, laughter, sadness, and peace. Remember those who aren’t here anymore, those who can be here but won’t, those who may be away fighting for our right to exist, or […]

Luke 2:14

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“Glory to God in the highest [heaven],
    and on earth, peace among those 
with whom He is well-pleased!”
     These are the words of the heavenly host who praised God on the occasion of Jesus’s birth.  As millions of Christians around the globe celebrate His birth today, I want to concentrate on the “bigger picture” that so many Believers do not see.  
     Our Western culture is focused on the innocent baby born in the manger, and the message of “peace and good will toward men”, which is an alternative interpretation of the last half of this verse. But I would like us to see that the appearance of God incarnate upon the earth is about more than the “peace and mercy” message put forth by those who choose to believe Christmas is a God ordained holiday.  I don’t mean to offend anyone — the birth of our Savior as a gentle baby is truly a glorious phenomenon, but I do not believe it should be seen through the narrow lens of that single event.  It is part of God’s bigger plan, and this verse points us towards the crowning point and completion of His glorious mission.
     I believe that it is important for us to discern that in order for the Jesus of Christmas —  the baby born in a manger to a virgin mother; the birth that the angels on high celebrated and praised God for; the Christ child who is seen as the hope of the world for peace on earth — in order for the Jesus of Luke, Chapter 2 to fulfill those promises and the hope of mankind, He must become the Jesus of Armageddon. 
     Yes, an image of a sinless, blameless child takes the eyes of our spirit off our own sinfulness and the ugliness in the world for just a moment, and allows us to delight in warm, fuzzy feelings.  But that image of our Lord is not a complete picture. That child came, ultimately, to grow up and confront Evil and Injustice, and to drive Sin off the face of the earth. 
     I know that is not the picture that has been painted for us throughout our lifetimes.  But it is the bigger Truth of who our Savior is and why He was born in the first place.  We have lost sight of what Scripture is actually telling us in this chapter.  The previous verse in Luke reveals that “suddenly with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying Glory to God in the highest…”.  What we have perhaps forgotten, or at least need to realize, is that in the earliest Greek translations of the Bible, “heavenly host” refers to the army of heaven.  “Host” is a military term connected with fighting and waging war. Not exactly the sentiment we attach to our celebration of Christmas, is it?
     But it is not too difficult for me to digest that God’s heavenly army would be praising Him for setting His plan of redemption for mankind into motion. There is a battle in heaven for the souls and spirits of mankind, God’s creation in His own image. And there will be a final battle on earth in which Jesus (God as man) will destroy His enemies and inaugurate His Millennial Kingdom on earth. And the birth of this baby is just the first step in accomplishing this plan, and worthy of the host of heaven proclaiming God’s glory.
     You see, the angels singing the praise of God, here in Luke 2:14, know that this precious baby will grow up to be King of both Heaven and Earth! They are praising God because this baby will become a man who fulfills the plan for our salvation. He will grow up to be the advocate, the intercessor, the “one mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus.” They are singing God’s praises because this event is not the end of the story… the baby will grow up so that He could die, offering a perfect, sinless life in sacrifice for our sins… He will grow up to be raised from the dead, conquering death and instilling a living hope of eternal life in all who come to Him; in other words, “those with whom He is well-pleased”.
     Don’t get me wrong! I rejoice in the birth of our Lord.  It shows God’s great love for us, that He sent Himself to redeem us.  But I do not believe we are to worship His immaculate birth as a festive holiday; as if the peace and joy we celebrate has already come. His birth does not accomplish that idyllic vision. True joy and peace will not become reality until Jesus returns at the end of the Tribulation, bringing with Him a heavenly host or “armies” from heaven to fight the final battle and rid the earth of the vestiges of Evil. 
     I realize this is a more sobering picture of how you may see the Christmas holiday. But I am not trying to destroy your spirit of hope. Just recognize that Satan can deceive us by tempting us to idolize what God has not ordained. Just look at how the Bible treats Christ’s birth, giving us scant details in only Matthew 1-2, and Luke 1-2.  Yet the return of Christ to vanquish Evil from the earth is an overriding thread of hope throughout both Old and New Testaments. Enjoy the birth of our Savior today, but don’t get so caught up in the false narrative of peace and joy that you can’t see the big picture and what the purpose of this baby really is!  
     
     

‘ O Holy Night ‘

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     As we approach Christmas Eve, and the celebration by millions of Christians around the world, my spirit is less interested in fighting the battle of whether it is pagan or not.  Instead, my heart and my spirit hungers to bring reverence and awe to the birth of God as man. Just that thought is astounding and breathtaking!
     And if you are like me, the song O Holy Night never fails to bring tears to my eyes, as my heart swells with the love shown to us by our God. “Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices! O night Divine, O night when Christ was born!” Those lyrics stir my soul; my mind and my emotions rise to that holy occasion.  But did you know those aren’t the original lyrics?  They are the result of an English translation of an 1847 poem called Cantique de Noel, by a French wine merchant, named Placide Capeau. Mr. Capeau asked his Jewish friend and composer, Adolphe Adam, to set the lyrics to music.  The emphasis of the original song stressed the Incarnation as God’s means to redeem men from sin, and as such, they are moving and inspiring:

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,

When God as man descended unto us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Saviour.
People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

May the ardent light of our Faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Guided the Oriental kings there.
The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,
It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has broken every bond:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

     Unfortunately, Monsieur Capeau wasn’t a regular churchgoer; and in fact, he was an outspoken socialist with anti-clerical viewpoints. Subsequently, his much loved song was banned in France for two decades. But in America, the song gained momentum through a translation made by the Unitarian minister and abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight. To see how much the song changed from the original, here is the more familiar song, as translated by Dwight, and whose lyrics stressed the universal longing for peace and justice which God’s Kingdom inaugurated:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need; to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim! 

     I am grateful to both authors for their majestic and glorious words which praise the birth of our Redeemer and the King of Kings!  But that’s not the end of this story … Even though the Catholic Church in France forbid the song from their liturgy, the French people would not let the song die and continued to embrace it–even if they had to sing it outside the official approval of the church.
     Legend has it that the French Catholic Church finally received the song back into its worship services after an encounter between French and German troops during the Franco-Prussian War.  During a lull in the fighting, a French soldier began singing “Cantique de Noel.”  The Germans were so moved that they responded by singing one of Luther’s hymns.  The “songfest” encouraged the soldiers to honor a truce for 24 hours on Christmas.
     I can’t verify this story, but the following one is true. This song is connected to nothing less than modern technology — the invention of the radio, in fact.  On Christmas Eve, 1906, Reginald Fessenden (a former colleague of Thomas Edison) was experimenting with a microphone and the telegraph.  Fessenden began reading the story of the birth of Jesus from Luke, Chapter 2.  Around the world, wireless operators on ships and at newspaper desks began to hear a man’s voice come out of their machines.  It was the first radio broadcast of a man’s voice. . . .and it was the Gospel of Christ.  But it doesn’t end there.
     Fessenden then picked up a violin and began to play a tune.  You guessed it. . . . . “O Holy Night.”  The song written by a wine merchant, set to music by a Jewish composer, banned by church leaders, kept alive by the French, adopted by American abolitionists, sung by troops in the trenches, and at last broadcast to the whole world by invisible radio waves. The first song ever played over the radio:  “O Holy Night.”   Fall on your knees.  O hear the angel voices.  O night divine.  The night when Christ was born.  O night divine. 
     May we all retain the awe and wonder of that holy night, and remember that the Christ child came to pay the price for our sins, and to set us free from our chains of bondage. Born in a humble manger, He came to deliver us all! Praise Him!

John 1:14   “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”



We Need More Godly Men

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     This is going to be a very personal post.  Thirty years ago today, I married the man God had planned for me.  I had just about given up that there could be such a man, having learned from my mistakes in other relationships that I would not settle for less than I deserved.  I will admit that I didn’t truly know my Lord at that time in my life. I mean, I knew He was real, and I had internalized all the basic Church knowledge of Him; but I didn’t know Him as my Savior.  But He was knocking on the door of my heart, and I was on the verge of answering His call on my life.
     Nearly simultaneously, my future husband entered my life.  A genuine friendship would be established before any thoughts of romance or marriage surfaced.  By that time, I was seeking God, and I instinctively knew that this young man was going to be a good and Godly man.  His faith was rock solid, and we both wanted a deeper and committed relationship with God. We may have been taking baby steps, but we were on our way!

     We had a lovely, small wedding, in a friend’s home before their fireplace. We both knew we wanted to be married in the eyes of God, but since we didn’t belong to a church, we weren’t sure how to make that happen.  After several disappointing phone calls to various churches whose pastors refused to marry us because we weren’t regular members of any church, I remembered a new church being pastored by a young minister I had liked in college.  That church would receive us and we soon became members, following the traditional path of Believers — church every Sunday, joining a Sunday School class, and emerging ourselves in the social life of the congregation.
     But that’s when God got ahold of us and began to show us that “traditional” and “conventional” was not the path He had planned for us.  And that’s when He began transforming my husband from an exemplary man into a Godly man.  Let me try to explain what that looked like…
     I can remember deciding that the one real way to get to know who my God is, was to read His Word.  I began a diligent study of the Bible and wondered why, when my husband grew up in the Church more than I did, that he didn’t have a hunger to read and study the Bible, too.  I asked him that question once, and although he couldn’t really give me an answer, it wasn’t long before I noticed him beginning his own study, and in a manner that told me he was sincere. Although initially following our own individual paths, we soon began pursuing our Lord diligently, conscientiously, and together. And that’s when my husband began his journey as a Godly man.
     He took the lead and assumed his Biblical role as head of our home. He began challenging his own belief system, and where it was incompatible with the Bible, he wasn’t afraid to dig in to try and discover God’s will in the matter, rather than man’s interpretation.  He was not passive in questioning church doctrine, nor was he too prideful or stubborn. Through “iron sharpening iron”, he was open to changing his opinion; all he wanted was God’s Truth.
     And, of course, a Godly man is not afraid to speak out. It is my husband’s sincere belief that to be silent in covering up sin, is a sin in itself. And when the Holy Spirit began convicting us that our beloved church of 20 years was compromising in their duties as God’s instrument on earth, he was courageous in speaking up and demanding accountability. He was beginning to live out his fear of God, rather than fearing his reputation among men.
     As anyone who has stood up to centuries of Church Doctrine knows, it can be a lonely position. But my husband has stood strong in defense of God’s Word and has not backed down when attacked, criticized, challenged, or ostracized. A Godly man knows that his path may be a solitary one; yet he is willing to undergo abuse for the sake of the Truth — even from fellow Believers.
     But perhaps one of the things I admire and respect most about this man who has shared my life for 30 years is that he has made it his goal to live a truly righteous and humble life. He has battled those things in his spirit and soul that he knows separates him from his God. He is diligent in his confession and repentance of those sins, and views his service to others for the Kingdom of God as his priority in life.  The business of earning a living, and meeting the obligations of his life here on earth will be taken care of by the God whom He seeks first. I must admit that he often shames me how easily he puts his trust and confidence in God.

     These are the main characteristics of a Godly man, but a life lived fully in service to our God manifests itself in all areas of our existence.  A Godly man is aware of what he lets into his mind; he is careful to avoid stimuli that lead to sin.  Instead he seeks to discipline his mind, in an earnest desire to possess the mind of Christ.  A Godly man knows that you can never have a Christian mind without reading the Scriptures regularly, because you cannot be influenced by that which you do not know.
     Relationships in a Godly man’s life are lived according to Biblical instruction; as a husband, he loves his wife as God loves His church; as a father, he does not provoke his children to anger, but brings them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
     A Godly man has integrity; nearly a lost concept in today’s world of selfish manipulation and compromise.  But a man’s character, conscience, and deep intimacy with God are hallmarks of a man who has the courage to keep his word and stand up for his convictions.
     A Godly man recognizes that the vocation he has chosen is an opportunity to glorify his God. I am proud to say that my husband’s creativeness and talent speak volumes of the discipline and honor he bestows on each painting he creates.  He has always said that it is his job to get up each morning and paint the best he can, and the Lord will take care of providing everything else.
     I know there are some who will say that a Godly man is a man who enjoys good standing in a Church; a man who gives of his time, talent and treasure for the Lord. But I don’t see where the Bible instructs a man to be in a church building every Sunday as part of his commission for Christ. My husband lives by the Scripture that says where two or more are gathered, the Lord is there — and he never forsakes the assembling together with other Christians to study, worship, and build relationship with his Savior. Every day is an opportunity to meet with the Lord, every open door is an opportunity to fellowship with Believers and nonbelievers alike; all for the sake of telling others of the glorious salvation through Christ!
     Those are the characteristics of a Godly man … and I’m more than blessed to see them in the person of the man I married 30 years ago today. He has given me his love, support, and encouragement.  He has made me laugh when I wanted to express anger; and his pure and humble love of my Lord and Savior has made me cry.  His honesty has given me the precious gift of trusting him; his strength has made me feel secure; and his compassion for others has allowed me to see his pure heart.   We have grown a lot in the last 30 years — from two individuals who barely knew the Lord to a couple who has grown, as one, into a new creation. I know we are not unique or better than the millions of other couples the Lord has brought together unto His service. I just know how incredibly blessed we are, and I do not take it for granted. But I am excited to begin the 31st year together with this incredible man who has taught me the meaning of unselfish devotion and never-ending love.  Happy Anniversary, to the best husband God could have given me! And thank you, Father God, for the blessing of this divine union of spirits and flesh!

Song of Songs 5:16    This is my beloved. This is my friend…
   

Psalm 46:10

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Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!

     Taken by itself, this verse is appropriate for this Season as we honor our God, who lowered Himself to become a human baby, born in a humble stable in a small village, southwest of Jerusalem.  It doesn’t really matter what time of year God was born; only that we acknowledge He lived, and would be revered among the nations and in the whole earth.
     But this verse is just part of the entire Psalm 46, and consequently, it has so much more to say when we look at the overall context.  Psalm 46, itself, speaks to the power and security of God in a chaotic, war-ravaged world.  Scholars think that probably it was written upon the occasion of King David’s victories over the neighboring nations, and expresses the emotions of the Israelites in the midst and aftermath of the chaos of war. And I can’t help but think about the city of Aleppo as I read the Psalm and concentrate on verse 10. Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is in the grip of the country’s civil war. Syrian and Russian forces are engaged in an all-out blitz to retake the eastern rebel-held districts of Aleppo because its recapture is vital to President Bashar al-Assad’s aim of re-establishing full control over the country. 
     Meanwhile, the citizens of this ancient city are caught in the cross-fire, and the violence of war has left Aleppo looking like an apocalyptic wasteland. The Christians of Aleppo are living Psalm 46 in real time:  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble … Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 
     The Psalm offers encouragement to hope and trust in the Lord; to take comfort in God when things look very bleak and threatening. As the slaughter of civilians in Aleppo increases at the hands of Syrian government militia, I can only hope that the words of verse 10 would be burned on the hearts of those Christians who have suffered from this devastating civil war.  
     Be still. This is a call for those involved in the war to stop fighting, to be still. The word still is a translation of the Hebrew word rapa, meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” It connotes two people fighting until someone separates them and makes them drop their weapons. It is only after the fighting has stopped that the warriors can acknowledge their trust in God. Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” While quietness is certainly helpful, the phrase means to stop frantic activity, to let down, and to be still. For God’s people being “still” would involve looking to the Lord for their help; for God’s enemies, being “still” would mean ceasing to fight a battle they cannot win.
     Know that I am God.  “Know” in this instance means “to properly ascertain by seeing” and “to acknowledge, be aware.” The act of acknowledging God influences our “stillness” by making us aware that He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. Acknowledging God implies that we can trust Him and surrender to His plan because we understand who He is.  
     I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. It was tempting for the nation of Israel to align with foreign powers, and God reminds them that ultimately He is exalted! God wins, and He will bring peace. During Isaiah’s time, Judah looked for help from the Egyptians, even though God warned against it. Judah did not need Egyptian might; they needed reliance on the Lord: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).
     Can you not see the same scenario playing out with Syria and Russia?  Aligning with foreign powers to promote or advance (exalt) your authority, is never a way to safeguard that power.  Ultimately, it will be God who will be exalted; He will determine the winners and losers in war. He is GOD, the One who is infinitely above all.  Let them wage war no more, for it is all in vain.  He that sits in Heaven, on His throne, will have His way and will do His own will.  He will glorify His own Name, and when the powers of this world deal proudly in war, He will still be above them, and make no mistake about it! It will be His interests in the world and His Kingdom here on earth that reigns.  
     Ultimately, the Psalm, and verse 10 specifically, wants us to understand that when we are still and surrendered to God, we will find peace, even when our world is in chaos and war.  The mountains may melt away and kingdoms may fall, but God will still be there… exalted above everything in Heaven and Earth.  He is our refuge and our fortress. We will be sheltered and at peace within, even when there is war and fighting all around us. He will quiet our minds and hearts, and eliminate our fears.  He is the Lord of hosts, the God of Jacob; and He has been, is, and will be with us—we can take comfort in that, and boldly ask, If God be for us, who can be against us?
     May the people of Aleppo take heart!  May they be still, and know God!  And even if they don’t survive the decimation, may they know that YHWH will be exalted among all the nations and in the earth!

Are You Coveting a Magazine Perfect Christmas

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Covet? No, not me. Never. It’s that Christmas has to be … well, it’s not really, really Christmas until we … I mean, we wouldn’t want the disaster that happened that year I let my husband do the planning … Take a deep breath and face it. You are coveting the perfect magazine Christmas and it’s completely wrecking your joy. Coveting is bad. Joy is good. Just in case you’re wondering. It doesn’t have to be a magazine, of course. Depending on your age, we could call it a Pinterest perfect Christmas, a magazine Christmas or a TV show Christmas. Maybe

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Gladly Set Apart

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     It has been interesting, from a social perspective, to see how those Americans who backed the losing political candidate for President have responded.  Mind you, this post is not meant to disparage political views or positions. We live in a country where everyone has an equal vote and no matter who you voted for, you have a right to your opinions. And let’s face it, over the last 16 years in our political history, not everyone has been happy.  In fact, after each election, there has been approximately one-half of the country who have not been happy with the results.

     I am writing this post because of what I have observed among friends whom I like and respect; people who are successful in business, and caring and generous people.  But their dissatisfaction with our new President-Elect has turned them into people that I hardly recognize.  They are angry, and seem to be willing to color anyone who doesn’t agree with them with a broad brush of negative attributes.  These are the same people who accepted you and your differences in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect — as long as they perceived their social and political persuasions carried the dominant position.  
     That wouldn’t bother me so much — knowing that political dominance is never permanent, and the pendulum always swings back the other way — except that the hostility and ire has now transitioned into a vocal criticism of my Christian beliefs.
     A recent conversation started off innocently enough… comparing favorite Christmas movies of our youth. (Mine, by the way is It’s A Wonderful Life — you can’t beat it for a good old-fashioned dose of sentimentality and a message of the importance of every man’s life).  The conversation then evolved into the whole phenomenon of “ugly Christmas sweaters”.  And one of our friends commented that one of the tackiest sweaters he had seen was a picture of Jesus, with “Birthday Boy” written underneath.
     I agreed with the tastelessness of such a display and then opened the proverbial can of worms by remarking that our Lord’s birthday is not even on December 25th. You could feel the tension in the room amp up. Thus began a discussion that went something like this…
     “Well, you know that no one knows when he was born, right?”
     I replied, “I agree, there is no exact historical document that states when His birthday is, but when the Bible says at His Birth, “there were shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night”, it can be proven that this would not have happened in late December, because it is winter then, and the fields would be full of snow.  The shepherds would have brought their flocks in from the fields.  It is more likely that Jesus was born in the fall, perhaps September or early October, when the shepherds remained in the fields with the flocks”.
     This seemed to agitate our friends even more.  “You can’t really go by what the Bible says; it is just a book of allegorical stories.  These are the same stories that have been told by other ancient peoples since the beginning of time.  The Bible has no supremacy in these stories”.
     By this time, I can sense that this conversation is growing more heated and I understood one thing clearly.  People who have rejected the truth of Jesus and the Bible will not be convinced by someone like me; someone who they clearly think is delusional and intellectually inferior.  They need concrete academic and scientific proof, and belief based on the absence of data, or without evidence — in other words, FAITH — is something they cannot logically conceive. But I wanted to make my position very clear…. “It comes down to if you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, or not.  I happen to believe it is.”  And with that, my husband wisely steered the conversation to safer subjects.
     But, as often happens, I think of things I wish I had said long after the encounter.  I should have pointed out that perhaps the reason so many of the ancient texts, such as the Sumerian, Annunaki, and Ugaritic texts, mimic the stories in the Bible, is perhaps because YHWH, the Most High God, tried to  reveal Himself to those peoples, but they rejected Him.  And it wasn’t until Abraham answered His call, that a people were worthy to be set apart as His chosen. A good argument, but I know that those who refuse to hear His voice will not be swayed by any explanation I present.  Only the Holy Spirit can work in their hearts and turn them from their stubborn ways.
     But it saddens me. As I said, I really like these people, and I have known they were unbelievers since our friendship began.  Our expressions of faith were always well-received and never an impediment. But I’m afraid the dynamics have changed with this new political season, and those of us with Faith are now inextricably tied to their dissatisfaction with the political climate. That’s OK.  If it sets me apart from those who put their faith in men and politics, then I’m happy with that designation.  And if it gives me more opportunity to be a vocal defender of my faith, then so be it.  I’m thrilled to talk about my God and His Word!
     In the end, this shouldn’t surprise me — or you, if you are experiencing the same kind of reaction. Our Lord told us we would be hated because of His Name. And, as His followers, we must endure and stand for Him, being promised our reward of salvation for all of eternity.  I can handle being sneered at and despised; I won’t be discouraged nor deviate from my path. I just wish my friends could share my peace and my joy. And I would love for them to come along on this exhilarating journey!

Romans 13:11   “Do this, knowing that this is a critical time. It is already the hour for you to awaken from your sleep [of spiritual complacency]; for our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed [in Christ]”.

2 Corinthians 5:17

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. 
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

     The Apostle Paul wrote several letters to the Church at Corinth.  He was deeply concerned that the Believers in Corinth were abandoning their faith.  In addition, a group of men had come to Corinth who presented themselves as apostles. They were false teachers who were challenging, among other things, Paul’s personal integrity and his authority as an apostle.  
     Among other topics in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul emphasizes that we must “regard no one according to the flesh”.  In other words, that what our lives are in this world should be secondary to our reconciliation with God in the spirit, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but for Jesus; who for our sake, died and was raised to sit at the right hand of God, the Father.
     So, Paul points out that if we are reconciled to God (reunited with Him in spirit), then we are also in Christ, and a new creation. Our old lives have passed away, and we now have a new purpose and mission.  No one was better qualified to testify about becoming a new creation than Paul, who was formerly Saul, of Tarsus. In his former life he had ravaged and persecuted the Church, making it his zealous mission to imprison both men and women, followers of “The Way”, and to ultimately destroy the new faith in Jesus as Savior and Messiah.  
     But on that road to Damascus, God got a hold of Saul, and in a bold and dramatic event revealed that Saul had not been persecuting men in his zeal to find favor with YHWH, but had actually been persecuting Jesus, the Son of God. We all know the story … Saul spent three days in Damascus, blind both physically and spiritually, while God revealed exactly who he had seen on that road.  During those three days, Saul died to himself, and was raised to a new life to become one of the most influential messengers of God. 
     I want to make sure we see that in this particular Scripture, Paul makes it clear that the promise of a new life is available to anyone!  It doesn’t matter what class, what race, what nationality, what language, or what level of intelligence. Anyone can be a new creation in Jesus Christ!
     But this promise is contingent on one thing… we must be in Christ.  This is not a promise for those who are in themselves, or in the religion of men, or in someone or something else. This is for those in Christ; for those who are grafted in to Him, joined to Him by faith in Him as their Savior. 
     And we must understand that Jesus Christ changes those who come to Him by faith, and who are in Him. The saved are not “just forgiven.” They are changed into a new creation [reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit], with new responsibilities. The old things have passed away; those things that were our previous moral and spiritual condition. We must never return to them.
     It is incumbent upon us to recognize that living as a new creation is not something God does for us, but works in us, using our will and our choices. So, we must both receive the gift of being a new creation, and be challenged to live the life of a new creation. But it is God’s work in us that we must submit to. This reminds us that at its root, Christianity is all about what God has done for us, not what we can or should do for God. Paul is careful [in today’s verse] to give the credit to God, not to us.
    I love this quote by the great theologian Charles Spurgeon: “Beloved, if you have no more religion than you have worked out in yourself, and no more grace than you have found in your nature, you have none at all. A supernatural work of the Holy Ghost must be wrought in every one of us, if we would see the face of God with acceptance.” If we truly become a new creation, it is expressly due to what God has done in us; we can claim no part in it.
     Behold, the new has come.  We are not only mended, but we are made new; becoming a willing partner in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. You see, God loves working with His creation.  He enjoys partnering with us, and through us, to see His perfect will be done.  But He can’t achieve His plan while we are in our flesh.  We must be in Christ and a new creation, regenerated in a spirit of obedience, and willing to glorify Him with our lives. Thank You, Lord, for the work You have done in me, and the work You will continue to do as I grow in this relationship towards You! 
     
      

Facing Darkness: A Story For The Ages

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Like my review on the new movie, Hacksaw Ridge, I feel compelled to point you to another inspiring true story… this one more recent.  And again, it is being portrayed on film, and is worthy of our attention; especially considering the largely perverted and exploitative entertainment industry. I will continue to praise and encourage the efforts of film-makers who accurately, and appropriately, promote our faith.    

      Even though Americans are now focused on the upcoming holidays, the news around the world reminds us that we are still in a physical and spiritual battle.  Fires rage in Israel; the Middle East is still in turmoil; mass graves are uncovered in Mexico; earthquakes in Japan and Central America remind us that the earth “trembles”; and our nation remains divided, as tens of thousands take to the street in protest. But even in the midst of these disheartening headlines, there is a story that will lift you up and inspire you.  While it is another story ripped from the headlines, it speaks to all of mankind through history.

     I’m sure none of you have forgotten the fear that struck the world in late summer of 2014 when the Ebola virus broke out in West Africa.  And I’m sure you still recall the image of Dr. Kent Brantley — the first person infected with the deadly virus on U.S. soil — being walked into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, after being flown from Africa in a desperate move to save his life.
     His story, and that of his wife Amber, is a moving tribute to their faith in God while in the heart of darkness.  And now, there is a gripping documentary, titled Facing Darkness, from Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse.  The film has not only won the Accolade Global Film Competition’s Award of Excellence, but has also received the Best Feature Documentary Premiere Award at the 2016 Heartland Film Festival.  The film festival celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and featured more than 130 independent films out of 250 entrants. It is not affiliated with Christian nor conservative organizations, and is an independent nonprofit arts organization, with a mission to “inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of film.” Heartland selects films that “inspire and uplift, educate and inform, or have the ability to shift audience’s perspectives on the world.”
     And with its powerful message of faith, we can only hope that Facing Darkness will have such an impact upon the world audience.  In a statement to the press, the festival’s director of programming and marketing said the film was “a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of conviction and hope in the face of despair.”  Isn’t that the real story of the human race?  Aren’t we all in a battle to find hope in a world that is doomed to judgment and destruction unless we surrender to the power that is faith in Jesus? And isn’t our mission here on earth to serve others in the likeness of our Savior; even to the point of death, if that’s where it leads?
     That is the story of Dr. Kent Brantley and hygienist, Nancy Writebol, both missionaries working for Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization that provides aid to people in physical need as a key part of Christian missionary work.  The organization is run by Dr. Franklin Graham, who serves as President and CEO.
     The film was shot in Liberia and the U.S. where the events took place. The story highlights the lives of heroes who risked their own health and life in an effort to stop one of the deadliest epidemics this century. Ebola infected more than 28,000 people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and 11,000 lives succumbed to the disease. Think how easy it would have been for Dr. Brantley, and the others who worked with him, to simply ask to be evacuated, leaving the problem of Ebola to the people and authorities in Africa.  But that’s not who they were. They put others before themselves, in a true example of Christian concern for the sufferings of others.  “Samaritan’s Purse workers were holding the last line of defense in a crisis the world was largely ignoring,” said Graham. “Hundreds were dying and it was only growing worse. When the disease struck Kent and Nancy, we knew we had to get them home for treatment. It was their only chance, yet it was something no one had ever done.”

     But the film is about more than the advances in science and medicine that made their eventual cure possible.  It is about facing the fear and the darkness of despair and the absence of hope.  “Faith is not something that makes you safe,” Dr. Brantly is quoted as saying when describing his decision to stay in the country and fight the disease. “You had to face death in the eye and decide, ‘Who am I going to be today?'” And when you think about it, that is a decision we each have to make — every minute of every day. But do we make that decision consciously and deliberately, or do we go about our day only responding to those things that affect us? Are we aware of who or what image we are displaying to the world? Do we act like Christ lives in us, or do we react from our own fleshly desires?  Those may sound like pointless and existential questions, but isn’t that precisely what God asks of us?
     Dr. Kent Brantley took those questions seriously.  And his testimony is a reminder to us, that if we proclaim to be a Christian, we have a responsibility to the One who saved us: “Even when I was facing death, I remained full of faith. I did not want to be faithful to God all the way up to serving in Liberia for ten months, only to give up at the end because I was sick… We have to choose compassion over fear. We cannot let fear be the motivating force for the decisions we make in life, for the way we treat other people,” he said. “There are a lot of big things going on in our world right now and in our country. I think this story can help us navigate those other experiences as well, as we wrestle with the challenge of choosing compassion over fear, and treating other people out of a sense of respect and love, and not out of a sense of fear and self-preservation”. Sounds a lot like how Christ lived His life, doesn’t it?
     To further emphasize this point, Franklin Graham says, “I think when there’s a crisis, God wants us to be there. He doesn’t want us to run away. God put us there [in Liberia] for a reason, and He expected us to do something about it.” This is the same story of Jesus’s three years as God in the flesh. The existence of God’s chosen people, the Jews, had come to a crisis. And God wanted to be there, in the flesh, to convict them and to cause a change in how they viewed Him. God chose to do something about the state of those He had chosen, and ultimately, all whom He has created. So He came in the flesh, as His Son, Jesus; fully man.  And as that man, He did not run away.  He did not ask to be “evacuated”, even though, like Dr. Brantley, He could have asked to be rescued from His impending death. Instead, He stayed and served.

     There are other similarities between Kent Brantley’s story and our commission to serve as Jesus did.  Brantly’s decision to stay was particularly heroic, especially considering the fact that escalating native opposition added to his perils. “Complicating the situation – after years of civil war – the people of Liberia deeply distrusted any authority and went so far as to blame the aid workers for spreading the disease,” the documentary’s release explained. “Hospitals and people were attacked. Yet the Samaritan’s Purse team continued to serve.” In His day, Jesus’s message was controversial, too, and eventually, those He came to serve began to blame Him for the increasing pressure from their own Jewish officials and the Roman authorities.  Yet He continued to offer hope and to attend to those He came to serve.
     So this inspirational story brings me to this conclusion:  What is the crisis in your life — whether large or small — the crossroads where you get to choose how you are going to act towards another person? Do you automatically weigh how your decision will affect you — or do you selflessly consider only how you can make another person’s life better? Dr. Brantley faced true darkness … despair in the face of an agonizing death.  Like our Savior, He was willing to sacrifice himself, in the desire to show compassion to another human being, while offering the possibility to save a life.  While Kent Brantley only offered life in this world, Jesus offers it for eternity.  And all He asks is that we love our God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourself … whether that neighbor is next door, or a world away. And no matter how big or small our neighbor’s crisis may be… that we simply answer the call and choose compassion over fear in service to others. In doing so, we will be facing our own darkness, and triumphing in the spirit of Christ!

Facing Darkness will be released on March 30, 2017 in select theaters around the country.  You can watch the trailer here.  Thanks to The Christian Post and One News Now websites for their reporting on this inspirational story.  

Isaiah 41:10   ‘Do not fear [anything], for I am with you; Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you; I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right hand [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation].’


   

   

“I Have Run The Race and Won My Crown”

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2 Timothy 4:7-8:   I have fought the good and worthy and noble fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith [firmly guarding the gospel against error].  In the future there is reserved for me the [victor’s] crown of righteousness [for being right with God and doing right], which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that [great] day—and not to me only, but also to all those who have loved and longed for and welcomed His appearing.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27:   Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

     If you have been following this blog for very long, then you know that I love history, and especially Biblical history.  You will also know that our Home Church group is studying the Book of Acts.  We have arrived at Chapter 9 in our study and worship of God and the Bible, and although this chapter features the important event of Saul’s conversion, I found myself curious about where one of the seemingly minor verses led me.
     In Acts 9:30, Scripture tells us that the Brothers in Christ sent Saul off to Tarsus after his preaching in Jerusalem won him some enemies among the Greek Jews (Hellenists) who then tried to assassinate him.  Initially, I wondered how far from Jerusalem Tarsus might be.  When I discovered that it was 356 miles, and then remembered that this was Paul’s home town, I wondered if this was some form of encouragement from the Brothers for Paul to soften his approach in his preaching by removing him from situations that could harm the growing Church.  
     You see, we don’t really hear from Paul again for 14, nearly 15 years.  He informs us [in Galatians, Chapter 1] that immediately after his conversion, he went to Arabia for an undisclosed time and then went back to Damascus.  He then tells us that three years later, he went to Jerusalem and stayed with Peter for 15 days.  In Galatians, Chapter 2, he informs us that he taught and preached in the regions of Cilicia (where his hometown of Tarsus was located) and Syria, before returning to Jerusalem fourteen years later.
     So what was he doing during those 14 years, and what does it have to do with the verses I chose today?  We are all familiar with these verses which bring to mind athletic competitions, running races, and winning prizes.  But I was fascinated to find that during these particular 14 years that Paul was absent from Jerusalem, the Olympics were held in Antioch in the year 44 A.D.
     This sporting event affected all of the Roman Empire. It gathered representatives from far-off cities, created new trade links and promoted the cultural life of the time.  It is very possible that the commercial “world exhibitions” connected with the Olympics also tied Paul’s family business of tent-making to the Antioch exhibition. At the same time he may have followed the Olympic competitors’ sports performances.
     It certainly appears so, from the references in 2 Timothy and 1 Corinthians.  It is apparent that Paul is comparing an athlete’s race to that of a Christian’s; with both earning the prize of  the victor’s crown at the successful completion of the race.  I know that some people have a problem with the idea of Christians and  “rewards”, falsely assuming that this promotes a doctrine of “works for salvation”.  But there are five heavenly crowns specifically mentioned in the New Testament that will be awarded to believers.  Jesus, Himself, in His message to the Church in Philadelphia, says, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown”.
     And Paul knew there was a crown of righteousness waiting for him in heaven, and he was ready to receive it. He was certain of it.  He plainly states it in 2 Timothy 4.  Some people may wonder if we will walk around heaven with crowns on, and everyone will notice who has the bigger and better crowns. But in Revelation 4:10, the elders surrounding the throne of God take their crowns and cast them before Jesus – giving any trophy or reward they have received right back to Him. I have a suspicion that we will do the same; acknowledging that His work on the Cross made it possible for us to receive the crown in the first place.
     But I want to point out that there is another reference to an actual sporting event in the verses in 1 Corinthians 9.  Every other year in the city of Corinth, they organized the famous Isthmus Games outside the city. They were second in prestige only to the Olympics. At them the sportsman had to swear that he had trained for the games for ten months and was ready to compete according to the rules.
     So, you can see in these verses that Paul is careful to stress “self-control” and the possibility of being “disqualified” — terminology that refers to his spirit mastering his flesh, and the possible loss of his reward [not salvation]. In the terminology of sports, “disqualified” signifies a person who has been rejected by the judges of the games, as not having deserved the prize. So Paul is concerned that he might be rejected by the great Judge; and to prevent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, and brought his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God.  All this points to the fact, that as a Christian, we must take our entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God seriously; not everyone will complete the race; and how we run the race truly matters.
     In the end, both 2 Timothy 4 and 1 Corinthians 9 point to the imperishable crown that we will receive at the judgment seat of Christ, where believers are rewarded based on how faithfully they served Christ.  How well did I perform the Great Commission?  How victorious was I over sin?  Did I obey the Lord when He prompted me to act on His part, or did I only consider my own desires?  This is the Bema Seat Judgment, reserved for Believers.  And it is a promise for all of us – but only if we will set our focus on heaven and on Jesus, who both walked the earth and now reigns in heaven, who is waiting to receive us .. ready to congratulate us on participating in a race well-run.  
         



Thoughts on Heroism, Discipleship, and Loyalty To God

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Desmond Doss

     My last post focused on Desmond Doss, an Army Medic and real-life hero of WWII, who vowed to serve both his country and his God, no matter the cost.  As he told a military tribunal who tried to court martial him for his refusal to carry a weapon, “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t [sic] seem like such a bad thing to me to put a little bit of it back together.”
     As I stated in the prior post, Doss single-handedly saved at least 75 men during one of the most horrific battles of the War, on the island of Okinawa.  At times, it may seem as if those kinds of heroes are vanishing, as we lose the last of the Greatest Generation.  But what Desmond Doss stood for will never be lost as long as there is one man or one woman willing to take a stand for their freedom of conscience… the right to follow our own beliefs in matters of religion and morality.
     As Stephen Greydanus, a writer at the National Catholic Register, expressed, “Desmond Doss is a hero for our own troubled times”.  And as fellow writer Eric Metaxes expounds, it isn’t only in the arena of war where freedom of conscience needs to play a part … “Times in which florists and bakers are being hauled before civil rights commissions, being fined, losing their businesses; times in which pharmacists in Washington State can lose their licenses for refusing to dispense abortion pills; times in which churches in Massachusetts can run afoul of “public accommodation” laws requiring gender neutral bathrooms — we do indeed have a model in Desmond Doss”.
     And Metaxes, as a writer, is very familiar with another hero of that time, Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In his masterful book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Metaxas tells us of the challenges Bonhoeffer faced in reconciling his faith, his moral ethics, and the politics of the day, which were quite diabolical in Nazi Germany. How does a committed Christian deal with the prospect of conflict with the Enemy on the battlefield?  While Doss and Bonhoeffer ultimately made different decisions on how they would be obedient to God, they both followed their consciences according to what they discerned was their instruction in the Bible.
     Doss determined that he would serve his fellow man by putting him first; willing to endanger, and even sacrifice, his own life in order to save another’s.  He would save lives, rather than take them, choosing to live out, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  Bonhoeffer, however, was faced with how to stop the demonic actions of Adolph Hitler, the anti-Christ of his times. Like Doss, Dietrich knew the 6th Commandment, Thou shalt not kill.  But he faced the moral dilemma of doing nothing to stop the murder of 6,000,000 Jews.  He finally came to the conclusion that he trusted God to understand his motives in becoming involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler.  To Bonhoeffer, it had come down to God’s admonition to Hate evil, love good, And establish justice in the gate! Both men exercised their freedom of conscience, and they took their accountability to God not only seriously, but solemnly.
     So, are we all capable of being as heroic as Doss or Bonhoeffer?  We may not find ourselves in the midst of a gruesome battlefield, or at the immediate center of a moral and ethical dilemma, but, as Christians, we are all in a battle with our culture, and the increasingly compromising positions of our Churches and governmental officials.  And like Doss and Bonhoeffer, we must decide how we are to act, as we find ourselves inside the collective drama.  We cannot, and must not, separate ourselves from the world.  But it is going to take courage to be and maintain the image of Christ, while all around us, the darkest impulses of the human will try to overwhelm and defeat us.
     If we are true to our faith, we know where our citizenship lies.  In fact, we are already there with Jesus, in spirit.  We just have to conform our mind, emotions, will, and these temporary bodies to the heavenly conviction of our spirit, and then let our actions show who we are.  It is not enough to pray… although we should not abandon sending our petitions heavenward.  We must be totally committed to our Biblical morals and completely loyal to God; acting on our faith, not just believing.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

     And it will cost us.  Discipleship in the Name of Jesus will not be a road easily traveled.  We can look at the lives of all the Apostles and see what it cost them. And in the cases of Doss and Bonhoeffer, we can see how loyalty to their God resulted in very different outcomes — one’s actions led to a hero’s medal; the other to execution by hanging. I know that there will be those who say that Bonhoeffer’s path was wrong and can never be accepted nor forgiven by God.  But my thoughts turn to King David, and his actions in having Uriah killed so that he could lie with Bathsheba.
     As theologian and Hebrew scholar, Michael Heiser, so eloquently writes in his fantastic book, The Unseen Realm, “King David was guilty of the worst of crimes against humanity in the incident with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite.  He was clearly in violation of the law and deserving of death.  Neverthless, his belief in who Yahweh was among all the gods never wavered.  God was merciful to him, sparing him from death, this his sin had consequences the rest of his life.”  The lesson here, is that personal failure, even the worst kind, as exhibited by Bonhoeffer, will not separate you from God’s mercy. Although Bonhoeffer was not spared from death [as King David was], he never disavowed his loyalty to God, nor doubted YHWH’s loyalty to him.
     In the final minutes of his life, before being led to the gallows, he led a short service for fellow prisoners, praying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Then he asked that a message be delivered to Bishop Bell in London; the message reading that “this was the end, but for him also the beginning of life, and that the ultimate victory of their cause – a universal Christian brotherhood rising above all national interest – was certain”.
     The prison doctor, who witnessed the execution recorded this impression: “Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God”.
     So, how will we, as modern day Christians, exhibit our loyalty and discipleship to our Lord?  We have seen in the examples of Desmond Doss and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the very picture of heroism — two entirely different men, but both committed to acting out their faith. Neither set out to become a hero, and I wage that neither welcomed the mantle. Each man simply followed his heart; a heart set on being obedient to the will of God. Not a simple thing to do in this world.  But ultimately, I believe that we can all be heroes to someone in need of the image of Christ in their life… a bright light in the midst of the darkest time in their life. And I know in my spirit that God will honor our actions on His behalf. He’s just looking for willing participants.

Isaiah 50:7-8:  “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near…”
   

Movie Recommendation: Hacksaw Ridge

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     I was intrigued by the movie trailer of Mel Gibson’s new movie, Hacksaw Ridge.  As Director, how would he incorporate God into a story of the hell that is War? His movie, Passion of the Christ, had moved me over a decade before, depicting both the tragic human story and the glorious divinity of my Savior, Jesus Christ.  As it turned out, he stayed true to the real-life account of his movie’s hero, and this man’s story is enough to inspire all of us who love the Lord.
     I have to admit that while watching the carnage of the battle to capture the Maeda Escarpment, an imposing rock face the soldiers called Hacksaw Ridge, tears streamed down my face, as I thought, “How much God must be grieved by war; to see the brutality that His creation can heap upon one another.”  But I can say that there were an equal number of tears at the depiction of the man who unfailingly and ceaselessly displayed Christ in the midst of that hell on earth which was Okinawa in World War II.
     Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Desmond Doss, an Army medic who, as a Seventh-Day Adventist, served in WWII as a conscientious objector… and won the Medal of Honor!  That’s right … Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor, which is the United States of America’s highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.  And he did it without ever carrying a weapon or firing a shot!  
     Doss was certainly heroic on the battlefield, dodging a barrage of gunfire and explosions, as he crawled on the ground from wounded soldier to wounded soldier. He dragged severely injured men [who had been abandoned as the Americans retreated] to the edge of the ridge, tied a rope around their bodies and lowered them down to other medics below. And then he returned to the battlefield again… and again … and again. He repeatedly ran into the heat of battle to treat a fallen comrade and carry him back to safety; all within a 12-hour period. In his customary modesty, Doss estimated that he saved 50 soldiers.  The Army estimated 100; so the official record settled on 75.  In Doss’s own words, he says: “I was praying the whole time. I just kept praying, ‘Lord, please help me get one more.’ “
     While his performance on the battlefield defied the odds — one veteran of Hacksaw Ridge said, “It’s as if God had his hand on [Doss’] shoulder. It’s the only explanation I can give” — it was how he conducted himself prior to going into battle that inspires me and causes me to take the measure of my own commitment to my faith.  Desmond took the teachings of the Bible seriously and literally. He fervently believed in the 6th Commandment … Thou shalt not kill … and was convinced that he could meet the moral obligation he felt to serve his country [defending not only freedom, but religious liberty] by becoming a medic, and as he put it, “be like Christ: saving life instead of taking life.”

     The movie realistically portrays the physical, emotional, and psychological abuse Desmond faced at the hands of his comrades and military superiors.  At each step of his very real persecution, he never disavowed his faith or his determination to serve his God.  At one poignant moment in the film, as the slaughter of American GI’s surrounds him, he kneels and asks, “God, what would you have me do”?  And at that moment, in the midst of fleeing and retreating soldiers, he hears the cry of the wounded left behind, and he never hesitates.  He charges into the face of hell, willing to die so that another might live.  There is no higher calling for a Christian than to give his life for another, and Desmond Doss fit that profile, perfectly.
     His official biography reads [partially] as follows: “Eventually, the Americans took Hacksaw Ridge. Okinawa was captured inch by bloody inch. Several days later, during an unsuccessful night raid, Desmond was severely wounded. Hiding in a shell hole with two riflemen, a Japanese grenade landed at his feet. The explosion sent him flying. The shrapnel tore into his leg and up to his hip. He treated his own wounds as best he could. While attempting to reach safety, he was hit by a sniper’s bullet that shattered his arm. His brave actions as a combat medic were done. But not before insisting that his litter-bearers take another man first before rescuing him. Wounded, in pain, and losing blood, he still put others ahead of his own safety. He would choose to die so another could live. After all, that’s what he read in his Bible. Such was the character demonstrated by Jesus Christ”.
     As one magazine article characterized him, “Private Desmond Doss walked into the bloodiest battle of World War II’s Pacific theater with nothing to protect himself save for his Bible and his faith in God”.  And I think it was his confidence and trust and unwavering belief in the God of the Bible that so moved me.  He took the assaults on his physical body and his character as a badge of honor; to suffer for Jesus was his due.  He took the words of the Bible in 1 Peter 2:20-21 seriously and personally:  But if when you do what is right and patiently bear [undeserved] suffering, this finds favor with God.  For [as a believer] you have been called for this purpose, since Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in His footsteps.    
     From the time he was a child and gazed upon a large framed picture of the Ten Commandments in his home, he felt God telling him, “If you love Me, you will not kill”.  He stayed true to that conviction through brutal and sadistic hazing in Boot Camp; through attempts by the Military Command to prove him mentally unstable (due to his faith); and through the courage he displayed as he charged into certain death to save another man … this latter description depicting the simple truth of Jesus Christ.
    While there are some who are criticizing this movie as American war propaganda, it is obvious they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The movie certainly depicts the ugliness and terror of war; spotlighting the blood and guts and gore that can be inflicted upon the human body.  But at the heart of this movie is one man’s love for, and obedience to, his God.  It is about unfaltering, relentless, and unquestioning faith in the face of human injustice and diabolical brutality.  The simple, sincere way in which Desmond Doss practices that steadfast faith is beautiful to watch on screen.  If you are a Christian, he will make you jealous of such ardent and passionate faith.  Desmond Doss will move you to tears, and make your heart swell with respect and admiration for him and for the film.  To watch a movie that doesn’t shy away from promoting such fierce faith — and to make it authentic and honest as the central storyline, without pandering for the “Faith Dollar at the Box Office” — is both encouraging and heartening.  The young actor, Andrew Garfield, who played Desmond Doss, is outstanding and portrayed Doss’s sacrificial faith with a genuineness that cannot be faked.
     I highly recommend that you see this movie.  It glorifies the life of a true Christian hero.  But more than that, it is a film that displays what the power of Jesus Christ in one man can do to change the lives of so many others.  I have no doubt that Desmond Doss received crowns in heaven, and this film is a crowning accomplishment for Mel Gibson as its Director. I could watch it again and again — it’s that inspiring.

Isaiah 40:31   “But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] will gain new strength and renew their power; They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun]; They will run and not become weary, They will walk and not grow tired”. 

3 Christmas Classics and the Lessons They Can Teach Us

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Many people wait anxiously for Christmas movies to start showing. I have to admit that there are some that I love and take the time to watch year after year.  Many of them have lines that are memorable and easily recognizable. Which of these do you know? And if you have seen them all, which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments. How the Grinch Stole Christmas I will always have a fond spot for the original (even if the new one with Jim Carrey is funny). This is one of the books that I always read to

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Isaiah 12

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And on that day you will say, “I will give thanks to You, O Lord; For though You were angry with me, 
Your anger has turned away, And You comfort me.

“Behold, God, my salvation! I will trust and not be afraid, For the Lord God is my strength and song;
Yes, He has become my salvation.”

Therefore with joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation.

And in that day you will say, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name [in prayer]. Make His deeds known among the peoples [of the earth]; Proclaim [to them] that His name is exalted!”

Sing praises to the Lord, for He has done excellent                                                                                      and glorious things; Let this be known throughout                                                                                    the earth.
                                                                             Rejoice and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
                                                                             For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

     The Amplified version of the Bible calls Isaiah, Chapter 12, “Thanksgiving Expressed”, and I found it so suitable as we end a week of Thanksgiving festivities.  So let’s break it down, and see exactly how the Prophet expressed his thankfulness.
     In the previous chapter, the Prophet Isaiah spoke powerfully of the reign of the Messiah as King over all the earth. Chapter 12 expresses his praise that comes from the heart of one who has surrendered to the Messiah as King, and enjoys the benefits of His reign.
     How many of us can say that we still praise God, even when we sense His anger or disappointment with us?  And how many of you believe that under the New Covenant, God no longer gets angry, but is simply a God of Mercy and Grace?  True, we might feel that all the anger and wrath of God against us was poured out upon His Son on the cross. In this sense, there is no more anger from God towards us, because His anger has been “exhausted.” But I think there is also a sense in which we receive chastening or discipline from the LORD, which certainly feels like His anger.
     While we can acknowledge this anger, and it certainly feels unpleasant, it really shows the fatherly love of God instead of His hatred. So how dear and wonderful is that comfort that comes after the discipline?  Especially when we know the chastening will come to an end?
     I love the passion with which Isaiah expresses, “Behold, God is my salvation”!  He feels this so deeply that he says it twice in the same verse.  To say God is my salvation is also to say, “I am not my salvation. My good works, my good intentions, my good thoughts do not save me. God is my salvation.” 
   “I will trust and not be afraid” … The place of peace and trust and “no fear” comes only from seeing our salvation in God, and not in ourselves. Here, Isaiah is not just experiencing feelings of trust, he is deciding to trust God.  That is an entirely different scenario.
     “The Lord God is my strength and my song” … When the LORD is our strength, it means that He is our resource, He is our refuge. We look to Him for our needs, and are never unsatisfied.  When the LORD is our song, it means that He is our joy, He is our happiness. We find our purpose and life in Him, and He never disappoints.
    “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation” … This means there is something for us to do: You will draw water from the fountain that provides everlasting life. God doesn’t meet our needs as we sit in passive inactivity. We must reach out and draw forth what He has provided. At the same time, it is His water, His well, His rope, and His bucket that we draw with!
     Isaiah then encourages the worshipper to give thanks to the Lord, praise the Name of Jesus, and to make His deeds known; to proclaim Him!  If you have received salvation and drunk from the waters that provide everlasting life, then you won’t be able to stop talking about God’s greatness and the great things He has done.
     In addition, the Prophet exhorts us to sing praises to the Lord, and to rejoice and shout.  First, the LORD was the song of Isaiah, in verse two. Now, he sings this song of the LORD to whoever will listen! It’s as if he is saying, if the LORD has become your song, then sing it!  The invitation to rejoice and shout our praise indicates that our worship of the Lord should never be mechanical.  It should be spirited and excited praise for all He has done in your life!
     Finally, Isaiah reminds us … For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. This gives two reasons for great praise. First, because of who God is: the Holy One of Israel. Second, because of where God is: in your midst. Each of these gives everyone reason to praise God and express our thanksgiving!

Thank you to StudyLight.org for providing quality Bible resources for this post on Isaiah, Chapter 12.

     
     
      
     


Thanksgiving Week: Stories of Prayer, Immigration, and Assimilation

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     I’d like to spend this week in a true spirit of giving thanks.  We’ve just finished a hotly contested and divisive election season; the war in Iraq has been revitalized; world powers are readjusting and realigning, and it’s too easy to get caught up in our anxieties and fears about the future.  But this week, let’s concentrate on the stories that bring us together; our common humanity and the lessons we can learn from Biblical history.

     This first story comes to us from Erbil, Iraq. Last Friday, November 18th, more than 20,000 persecuted Christians gathered to pray for Iraq and victory against ISIS. The six-hour prayer event marked the end of 50 days of fasting, and for many Christians, hopefully the start of a new life without ISIS. Think about that! In this country that has been torn apart by war for more than thirteen years, this is a remarkable show of faith in the wake of some of the most horrific and wicked persecution the world has ever seen.
     Those that gathered were specific in what they wanted to accomplish.  They prayed for the presence of God’s Spirit to envelop the meeting and that every person would clearly hear what God wanted to say to them.  They prayed that leaders of the event would preach, worship and pray under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  They prayed that those who were Unbelievers would be touched by the Holy Spirit during this time, and come to know His Truth, as Son of God and Lord of all. They prayed that this gathering would be a time of encouragement to those who were struggling to stay steadfast in their faith because of the persecution they had suffered; and a time of breakthrough for those struggling to know Jesus for the first time.  Finally, they prayed that God would indeed hear from Heaven, answer the cries of His people, and bring healing, renewed hope for the future and peace to the people of this region. It is an ancient prayer that people of the Bible have prayed since Genesis.
    While Iraqis are hopeful that the defeat of Isis and the liberation of their towns will continue, they still face violence by local militias, regional conflicts between key players like Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, as well as the distrust between the different religious and ethnic groups of the Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, and Arabs.  It is the same old world story, but at the heart of it is the continued power of prayer and the hope of God’s promises.  I am thankful for this current reminder that God is still sought after as the ultimate answer to the world’s chaos.
     This second story has an ancient Biblical connection.  Remember the story in Acts, Chapter 8, when Philip, the Evangelist, encounters the Ethiopian eunuch on his way back from Jerusalem?  Philip overhears the Ethiopian reading the Book of Isaiah; specifically, Chapter 53 [which identifies our Lord as the Suffering Servant], and offers to help the traveling eunuch understand what he is reading. First, we need to understand that it is nearly 1600 miles from modern Ethiopia to Jerusalem!!! This man traveled a long way to gain knowledge, and how did he come to be seeking wisdom about the coming Messiah?
     Well, scholars speculate that Ethiopia was the land where the Queen of Sheba had come from, who saw the glory of Solomon’s kingdom and professed faith in the God of Israel (1 Kings 10:13). It’s possible that pieces of the Jewish faith were passed on through the centuries to men like this servant of the current Queen. And after Philip’s instruction, and his confession of faith and baptism, this Ethiopian eunuch most likely returned to his homeland and helped launch the Christian faith in that ancient land. Here’s an additional interesting note: The Coptic Christians – greatly persecuted today in Egypt – trace their spiritual heritage back to this Ethiopian official.  So, what does all this history have to do with giving thanks this week?

     Daniel Sahalo is some of the fruit that was borne from that divine appointment between Philip and the Ethiopian. He was born in the farming village of Gaina, Ethiopia. In 1984, when Daniel was 4 years old, his family decided to immigrate to Israel, along with a group of other Jews seeking to flee the famine and political unrest in Ethiopia. For eight weeks, Sahalo and the rest of his group traveled barefoot at night under the eclipse of darkness. They contended with many threats, including robbers, hunger, wild animals, and the bitter cold of the desert nights. Sadly, more than 4,000 members of the Ethiopian Jewish community died on the way to Israel, including Sahalo’s 23-year-old sister and 2-year-old niece.
     After waiting nine months at a Red Cross refugee camp near the Sudanese and Egyptian border, the announcement finally came that the group would be flown to Israel. Sahalo would go on to finish high school, enlist in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) prestigious Paratroopers 101 battalion, and become the only member of his family to earn an academic degree [in International Relations and Latin American Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem].
     But perhaps his most important accomplishment has become his involvement with the Megemeria Jewelry Collection, as their Sales and Marketing Manager.  You see, the experience of Ethiopian Jews in their new homeland of Israel has o theften been a difficult one.  Most Ethiopian Jews were farmers in their native country and now have trouble finding work and integrating into Israeli society. That’s where Yvel comes in; they are a company in Israel that makes and sells fine jewelry.  Founded by Argentinian immigrants to Israel, they started a social business enterprise, called the Megemeria School of Jewelry and the Arts. “Megemeria” means Genesis in Amharic, the native language of Ethiopia.

     The school teaches Ethiopian immigrants to Israel the art and science of jewelry design and manufacturing, along with many other skills, such as math and the Hebrew language. Students study for free, receive a monthly stipend to help with living expenses, and upon graduation from the school, many are hired to work at the Megemeria social business. All jewelry is designed and manufactured entirely by the school’s students and graduates, with all sales revenue reinvested in the project. What a beautiful Biblical picture of how God instructed the Israelites to love the “sojourners” and “aliens” in their land, remembering that they were once sojourners themselves.  It also shows the respect of the new citizens of Israel by learning the native language and becoming productive citizens.  This story of Aliya (the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the Land of Israel) turned from one of struggle to one of thanksgiving.
     In these two stories, we see the history of humanity.  They encompass the stories of refugees, asylum-seekers, the internally displaced, and those moving to other countries as immigrants. They cover the reality of being human as well as being a Christian or a Jew. They remind us that we are all made in the image of God.  We are all representatives of God on earth, and we all have worth in His eyes; each of us was made by God and Christ died for us.
     In this age of war, global politics, and Elitist domination, it is sometimes hard to imagine that God cares about each individual.  But from the beginning of the human race, nothing has changed. Just as God “saw” Abram in Mesopotamia; Ruth in the land of Moab; Daniel in Babylon; and each of the Disciples in their lonely journeys to Asia Minor, India, North Africa, Persia, and beyond, He “sees” each of us. He hears each prayer, as in Erbil, Iraq; and like the Ethiopian Jews, He desires that each person seeking a better life in a strange land would be welcomed, and charity and compassion be dispensed.  The stories presented here mirror these Biblical principles, and are the perfect way to begin our Thanksgiving week.

Thank you to the Christian Broadcasting Network for reporting on these two inspirational stories.

Psalm 103:13   Just as a father loves his children, So the Lord loves those who fear and worship Him [with awe-filled respect and deepest reverence].

Acts 20:27

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“I did not shrink from declaring to you
 the whole counsel of God.”

     What exactly is the whole counsel of God?  In this passage of Acts, Chapter 20, the Apostle Paul is declaring his role as a Representative of God’s Word.  With a clear conscience, he can say that he has presented the unabridged version, so to speak, of God’s teaching.  He has not dodged the difficult questions; nor has he tried to add or subtract from God’s Word to make it more acceptable to his listeners.  In fact, he has presented God’s Word in order that he might help believers to grasp the whole counsel (purpose and plan) of God, so that they would become better equipped to read their Bibles intelligently and comprehensively.
     But how many of you believe, or have been told, that we are under God’s Grace, not the Law; therefore the New Testament is our primary source of God’s teaching, and that’s the only “counsel of God” we need?  Or, that the Old Testament is a nice bit of history, but it has no real significance to us “New Testament Believers”? As a serious student of the Bible — the whole Bible — I find these opinions unsound and inaccurate.  
     First of all, it is important that we understand the original meaning of the word, “counsel”.  It comes from the Greek word boulomai, and according to Strong’s Concordance, it “expresses strongly the deliberate exercise of the will”.  In other words, Paul is saying that he did not shrink from declaring God’s deliberate exercise of His will throughout history, and he revealed the whole of God’s revelation about His purpose(s) in relationship with His creation, man.
     Keep in mind that the New Testament had not even been written when Paul made this statement, so some may ask, “How can we make it a Law vs. Grace, Old vs. New Testament argument”?  In fact, this is actually what I am saying…. I believe that Paul was given Divine revelation in relating God’s plan that covers the entire spectrum of history: Law, Grace, Judgment and Redemption.  The entire Bible is God’s counsel! There is history of redemption throughout the Old Testament that points to The Redeemer in the New Testament.  Paul related God’s explanation of man’s origin, fall, and rescue [in the Old Testament], which leads to a worldview [in the New Testament] and points out the need for a Savior and Deliverer.  There were commandments of old to be obeyed and accepted wisdom to be pursued, and those would be expanded upon in the life of the Incarnate God.  And those commandments and wise counsel were not to be discarded, but rather they spoke of the transforming power to come; of age-old promises to be trusted and hopes to be anticipated.
     But here’s kind of a synopsis of what I think Paul was saying … God’s counsel cannot be limited to one concept such as Grace or Law.  Remember, the word “counsel” is speaking of God’s deliberate exercise of His will. Can we agree that the “whole counsel of God” centers around the idea of His Sovereignty in all matters?  Can we see that His counsel is bigger than Grace, for example?  After all, Paul certainly experienced the Grace of God, yet he did not limit his teaching to that doctrine.  He did not shy away from explaining how God exercised His deliberate will by punishing the rebelliousness of the ancient Israelites; nor did he neglect to point out God’s Judgment against those who refuse to repent. 
     We are in need of the whole counsel of God … the grace, the law, the discipline, the love, the forgiveness … The fullness of His Character reveals His Sovereignty; and His whole counsel is for the purpose of establishing Christ’s Kingdom on earth.  It may not be a perfect picture… but we need to hear it all!
     
     

What Now? How Do We Move Forward?

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     It has been nearly a week since our national election and there seems to be a concerted effort to continuously promote division amongst our populace.  It’s as if a powerful “force” is determined to create rivalry, bitterness, and hostility between us.  We can point to outside agitators, but we know who that “force” really is, don’t we?  And I believe that the animosity we are seeing here in our nation, on earth, is mirroring the hostilities that are occurring in heaven between God and His host, and Satan and his followers.
     So, how are we to react, and what are our responsibilities?  I think I can sum it up by sharing an interesting experience I enjoyed this past weekend.  I have told you that my husband is an artist and part of our business is to exhibit his art at various shows and events.  He is primarily a Western artist, but every once in awhile, he is inspired to paint a different subject matter.
      As to be expected, there is always a cross-section of people who enjoy the arts.  They are not classified by political ideology, race or ethnicity, or whether they share religious beliefs or not.  In fact, we try to receive all people on an identical footing, with the idea that we are disciples of Christ, wherever we find ourselves.

“Yeshua” – My husband’s comment on the painting:
“The emotion and impact of the Crucifixion is
stunning and heart-rending. The cut limestone
background and weathered Mexican wood
of the sideboard it rests upon only accentuate
the emotion of this piece.  Dramatic lighting
and the carved stone of the figure of Messiah
are poignant and touch my spirit”. 
 

     That being said, it has been suggested to us, by one of the venues in which we exhibit, that presenting faith-based paintings is probably not a good idea because the public isn’t interested in seeing them.  Of course, that doesn’t deter my husband, who will not deny the glorification of our Lord because someone doesn’t accept Him, or it makes them uncomfortable.  And, often, they are the first paintings to sell, because they strike an emotional chord in someone who loves Him as much as we do.
     Another artist who attended our opening was a photographer who had the same experience.  Likewise, she was advised not to enter a moving photograph in a contest because it featured an image of an open Bible through the window of an old church, with the panes casting a shadow of the cross across the wooden floor.  That photograph was very emotional and she received several orders for it.
     I relate all this to illustrate how easily the Enemy tries to convince us that our message of Christ is unwanted, unwelcome, and uninspiring.  And I believe that is the message that is being encouraged in the wake of this contentious election.  But, I believe just the opposite is true!  Right now, our nation needs the hope that Jesus inspires in those of us who are His disciples.  And it’s taken me a bit to get to my point, but here it is …. Now is the time for us to live out what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And exactly what does that mean and how do we do it?
     First of all, a careful study in Strong’s Concordance tells me that to be a disciple of Jesus is to follow His teachings.  That means more than to be His student or pupil, but to be an upholder, a defender, and a true believer in Jesus.  In other words, it is our faith accompanied by action; to be an imitator of Christ within our spheres of influence.
      Very simply put, we need to show our nation — and the world — that we have faith in Jesus’s message; that we live and love according to His holy principles; and above all, to show them what a life abiding in Christ looks like.  We are not nasty, racist, homophobic, misogynist, sexist haters.  In fact, we are honorable and moral people who will accept you even if you don’t accept us.  We won’t hate you for your sins, because we know what it is to be a sinner.  By exhibiting what it’s like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, we hope to show you Someone greater to believe in than yourself or the shiny temptations of the world.
     Don’t get me wrong, we would love nothing more than to create a curiosity in others about the peace we find in the midst of all this discord and disharmony.  We want to share our testimony and tell you how we’ve been able to endure the difficulties and struggles in our lives; how and why we don’t covet money, or prestige, or possessions.  We want to share the Source of why we are moved to paint, or photograph, or write about the One who defines our life.  Yes, I will admit that I want to teach you about Him, so that you might love Him as much as I do.  But I want to do that by showing you what it’s like to serve others, to put others first, and to seek  Him above all things worldly.
     Those are attitudes that have been missing in our national discourse, and no elected official is going to be able to legislate Discipleship.  True discipleship comes from being a committed follower of Jesus, imitating Him in how we treat others, and adhering to His commandment to be the Light of the world.  There will be those who will respond to us, and those who will reject us.  We mustn’t concern ourselves with the job of convincing people to accept us.  We must live our lives as examples of Christ, and let the Holy Spirit convict those He will.  So, in the intense and impassioned days ahead, do not lose your focus, nor turn aside from your responsibility as a Disciple of Christ.  Let not the world discourage you nor dissuade you from your purpose… because they will certainly try.  Just remember that we are equipped to carry on as His witnesses … and our nation needs our example.

John 15:8    “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.”
   
   

Joel 3:14

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Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.

    I have been talking a lot lately about the momentous decisions that have been presented to our nation in this election cycle.  Not only did we individual citizens have to decide who we wanted to represent us in our governing bodies, but those elected officials now have to decide how they will govern, and how to bring the nation together again.
    And I found it curious that as I am progressing once again through a detailed study of my Bible, I have arrived at the prophetic chapters of Joel.  It is interesting to me … Joel has such significance, and a reputation, when it comes to the prophecies surrounding the End Times, that you expect it to have a lengthy number of chapters.  Yet, it has a lot to say in just three short ones.  And when I came to the section in the last chapter, subtitled The Lord Judges the Nations, I was struck anew by this familiar verse:  Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision. For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.
     I say struck “anew”, because all of a sudden, I saw a completely different understanding of verse 14.  In the past, I have understood that Joel is looking out upon the Valley of Jehoshaphat at the Battle of Armageddon, and sees the multitudes facing their eternal fate.  I have understood that, in life, there is a metaphorical valley of decision, and those who reject YHWH and His Messiah are in the wrong place in that valley of decision, which is ultimately fulfilled at the Battle of Armageddon.  
    I have generally adopted the 21st Century Evangelical interpretation of this Scripture, and assumed that it meant that all people standing in that valley must decide whether they are for or against Jesus; that it is their decision that is being portrayed.  
     But as I studied this passage again, I suddenly saw a new understanding!  From the beginning of Chapter 3, God makes it clear that it is He who has called the multitudes to appear in the valley… He says, “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (verse 2) … and,  “Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up” (verse 9) … and, again, “Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there” (verse 11).  Clearly, it is God who has arranged for these people to be drawn to the Valley of Decision.  
     But why?  If they are not there because of their own volition, and are not there to make a decision for or against Yeshua, then what is His purpose for summoning them there?  Here is a possible interpretation of that significant Scripture:  There is no question that Man does indeed stand in the valley of decision, but it is God who does the deciding, not man. It is a valley of judgment – the Bible clearly puts that valley in the context of the Day of the Lord.  And what happens on the Day of the Lord?  Among the events that day, the Bible tells us it will be a Day of Reckoning (Isaiah 2:12); a Day of Judgment (Isaiah 2:13-17); a Day of Destruction from the Almighty (Joel 1:15); a Day of Vengeance (Jeremiah 46:10); a Day when Justice is dealt out (Obadiah 15); a Day of Punishment (Zephaniah 1:8) and a Day of the Lord’s Anger (Zephaniah 2:23).  
     It is obviously a Day when God decides. Our fate will be based on whether we have committed our lives to Jesus or to our own selfish desires.  Ultimately, it will not be a benign event, should we find ourselves standing in the Valley of Decision on that great and terrifying day.  If you have not made that decision yet — or have a loved one who has not — do not delay!  We do not know when the Day of the Lord will occur, and do not be caught unawares… you never want to be found among the multitudes in the valley of [God’s] decision [when His judgment is executed]!

Hebrews 8:13

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When God speaks of “A new covenant,” He makes the first one obsolete. 
And whatever is becoming obsolete (out of use, annulled) 
and growing old is ready to disappear.

     Sometimes I am amazed that in this supposedly “enlightened” age, we in the Body of Christ, can still be so confused about the meaning of Scripture.  Hebrews 8:13 is one of those verses, that if not considered in the whole context of Jesus’s mission on earth, can easily be misconstrued.
     I have heard it explained that this verse is spoken in reference to “the Law”.  And we have to even be careful when using that terminology, because Christians conflate the Mosaic Law and God’s Law, and tend to relegate “the Law” to the ceremonial system of rules God designed to direct the lives of the Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant.  But the Law was more than the Ten Commandments which were embodied in the Mosaic Law given at Sinai.  Those ten commandments were an extension of the eternal moral law of God as it was given to Israel to govern her life as a nation, in order to experience God’s blessing under the Abrahamic covenant.  And God’s moral law is eternal!
     But we have been told that we no longer live under the Law and we abide in the Age of Grace… that the Law was instituted under the Old Covenant and we are under the New Covenant, by which Christ told us He came not to destroy the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill.  Then, we are told that “to fulfill” means “to bring an end to”, or “to do away with”.  That is when this verse in Hebrews, Chapter 8, is brought forth to prove that the Law is equated with the Old Covenant, which is declared in verse 13 to be “obsolete”.
     This controversy has led to a whole lot of misunderstanding among the Body of Christ.  There will be those who say the Law no longer has any significance for us, and that is what verse 13 is saying.  But I would venture that this is a gross exaggeration. First of all, it depends on exactly what you mean by “The Law”.  Secondly, it depends on a correct understanding of “Old” and “New” Covenant.  The fact that the Mosaic law (and its rituals of animal sacrifice for salvation) has been terminated does not mean that there is no law in this age of grace.  The New Testament is full of references to various forms of law under God’s direction:  “the perfect law of liberty” (James. 1:25), “the royal law” (James. 2:8), the Law of Christ (Galatians. 6:2), and the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus (Romans. 8:2). These all point to various commands found throughout the epistles which comprise God’s Law. They cover all areas of the believer’s life to direct him in the will of God in today’s world.
     We can all agree that the Mosaic Law was weak because it was dependent on man’s ability, and God put an end to that system with the advent of Christ.  But that was the system God used to divorce the Israelites from the pagan ways of their centuries of bondage in Egypt.  They were so steeped in the occultic practices and sins of Egypt that they had lost any sense of a relationship with their God.  The Mosaic Law was designed to build and maintain a proper relationship (through covenant) between God and His people Israel (blessing versus cursing), but only until the coming of Messiah and the establishment of a New Covenant. The Mosaic Law was never designed to be a permanent rule of life. It was merely a tutor or guardian to guide Israel in all areas of her life until Christ.
     A reading of the entire Chapter of Hebrews 8 clearly shows that it is not “the Law” (in the form of ceremonial rituals and restrictive rules) that is the focal point of what will become obsolete between the Old and the New Covenant; indeed, God says in verse 10, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”.  What I believe the Scripture is saying is that the method of instituting God’s law through animal sacrifice and ceremonial rituals will become obsolete.  The Law, itself, will be written on our hearts as we walk by the Spirit of Christ in our faith, and the Covenant of relationship with God will be renewed.  It is not a matter of one Covenant being replaced by another.  Rather, the way of receiving God’s grace (through the blood sacrifice of animals) will become obsolete, but not the need for the sacrifice, itself.  God still demanded that, and it was fulfilled in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.  The need for God’s laws remain … and they are circumcised upon our hearts because the means of blood sacrifice to receive God’s grace and mercy is no longer demanded.
     It is no wonder that the Body of Christ is confused, and accused of legalism if you proclaim that the Law still exists, and is written on your heart.  It doesn’t help to understand the issue when statements such as these are made:  “Since the Lord Jesus Christ fulfills the Law by His person and work, believers are under a new law; the obligation to walk by the Spirit of Life through faith (Rom. 8:2-4). If we are led by the Spirit, then we are not under the Law (Gal. 5:18)”.  Or this statement:  “Against such, i.e., the fruit of the Spirit, there is no law because the believer is then operating under the highest law, the standards are met as we walk by the Holy Spirit and grow in the Word (Gal. 5:22)”.  Can you see how difficult it is for us to all come to an agreement of what “the Law” is, or which law we are talking about?  
     It is important to understand that there is a very definite difference between God’s laws which are moral commandments, and the commandments contained in ordinances which had to do with the ceremonies of the old Jewish rituals for receiving grace. And it is because the unlearned Church misapplies Bible statements about these different kinds of laws (and their purpose) that they become confused.  And the result?  The Body of Christ ends up in endless and circular arguments; even to the point of disagreeing if the Ten Commandments are part of the “Old Covenant”, and therefore obsolete!  It shouldn’t be that hard!  Yes, the system of sacrifice under the Law of Moses did vanish away; but those animal sacrifices were instituted and designed to prepare the way for the sacrifice of Christ, and then to pass away — all as a principle of God’s continual Covenant with men.  That covenant of relationship did not end, it was simply renewed in faith in Christ.  And unlike the old sacrificial system (which was temporary), this method of receiving God’s grace is designed to last for eternity.  Praise God for His Mercy and Grace!

Plan for a Debt-Free Christmas This Year

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A debt-free Christmas is possible! There are too many tales of people who finally pay off their Christmas shopping in time to build up the debt again. Don’t be one of them – or if you are, it’s time to stop. No one really wants you to go into debt in order to buy them […]

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2 Peter 1:10-11

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Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble.  
For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior 
Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you.

     
     It is obvious from this passage that the subject matter is important to Peter.  He is telling fellow believers to make every effort to confirm (to make sure) of their “calling” and “election”.  First of all, we need to understand what is meant by those terms, and then to understand why it is so important to be sure of them.
     Those particular words have caused much difference of opinion in theological circles for centuries.  But, when I have a question, I always go to Strong’s Concordance in order to understand what the word was in the original Hebrew or Greek (instead of the sometimes vague or inconclusive English translation).  In this case, the word “calling” is from the Greek word, klesis, and the idea of an invitation is being implied.  It is used especially of God’s invitation to man to accept the benefits of salvation.  
     The word “election” has all kinds of implications, and is often used to support the theological premise of predestination.  When one studies the meaning of its origin in the Greek, one finds that it comes from the word, eklegomai, which means “to pick out, select; to choose for oneself”.  Interestingly, it does not necessarily imply the rejection of what is not chosen, but “choosing” with the secondary ideas of kindness or favor or love. 
     And how do we confirm or know that our calling or election are confirmed?  Peter says, “If you do these things you will never stumble”, thereby affirming your security in them.  But what are “these things”?  They are the faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love that we see evidenced in our lives. (See 2 Peter 1:5-7).  As we see these things in our life, we know that our lives are becoming more like the nature of Jesus. It shows that we are being conformed to His image.  
     As David Guzik points out in his commentary, “It is possible for an unsaved person to do many moral and religious duties. But the “these things” Peter wrote of are matters of the heart, and should be evident in anyone born again. Simply said, if we are called, if we are elect, then we are born again – and if we are born again, it shows in the way that we live”.  Furthermore, if we continue to grow and progress in our Christian life through these things, it is a sure way to keep from stumbling.
     Now, we come to the Why it is important to be sure that we have accepted God’s invitation and been chosen to live out a righteous life.  It has to do with how you enter into the eternal Kingdom of God.  Peter makes it clear that it is important to know where you stand in your Christian walk so that your entry will be “richly” supplied to you.  We must not skip over the fact that he makes a point about the state of your entrance.  There is more going on here than the knowledge that you will enter the Kingdom of God if you do “these things” and are certain of your “calling” and “election”.  The object of not stumbling seems to be how you will enter the Kingdom, and Peter is implying that it should be a goal to do it “richly”.  
     The 19th Century British evangelist Frederick Meyer gave a wonderful analogy about our entry into the eternal Kingdom:  “There are two ways of entering a port. A ship may come in, waterlogged and crazy, just keeping afloat by continual working at the pumps; or it may enter with every sail set, her flag floating at the mast-head. The latter is what the Apostle Peter desires for himself and those whom he addresses. He desired that an entrance abundant should be ministered unto them.”
     I’m sure you’ve heard the contemporary version of this analogy … something along the lines of “if I can just skid into heaven under the wire, that’s good enough for me.”  But is it?  Is that what we really want?  Which would you rather accomplish — to come in unrecognized and unknown, or be welcomed by scores and hundreds or thousands of God’s heavenly host to whom you have been the means of a blessing, and who are awaiting you in honor and celebration?
     It must not be lost on us that coming into the Kingdom was so important to Peter that he felt it necessary to remind believers to be sure that they did all they could with their invitation from God, so that they could receive the most glorious of entrances.  Do you live each day with that in mind?  Do we realize that our entrance will be a time of celebration?  Which do you want … to arrive unannounced and unheralded … or to arrive to the sounds of the heavenly choir singing your praises? We must not take our entrance into eternity for granted, nor as trivial or insignificant.  What a glorious day that will be!

Planning a Christ-Centered Christmas

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A Christ-centered Christmas is possible. Let us begin with that, eliminate what takes us away from that and include what brings us toward that. Are you ready? This post contains affiliate links. This is me baring my heart to you, because I think this is something many of us need to hear. Ten years ago, […]

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He’s alive…and part titanium! Plus, the very core of preparedness

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Me after no sleep after surgery…19 hours later…Advertisements I wrote the below about 6 hours ago while trying to find some semblance of sleep. Considered it a brain dump towards that goal, and found I needed to thank a lot of folks on Facebook who knew this surgery was hard-fought for, difficult to reach, and […]

Genesis 16:13

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 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me.”

     These are the words of Hagar, spoken as a result of the difficult situation she was in as Abram’s wife’s handmaiden.  Because Abram and Sarai did not trust that God would fulfill His promise to make Abram the father of many nations, they took matters into their own hands.  
    There is an old Jewish tradition which suggests that before they came to live in the Promised Land, Abram and Sarai regarded their childlessness as punishment for not living in the land. But now they were in the land for ten years, and they still had no children. Sarai probably felt it was time to do something. Perhaps she thought along the lines of an old (but unbiblical) proverb, God helps those who help themselves.  
     So she arranged for her handmaiden, Hagar, to conceive a child by Abram. (NOTE:  According to tradition, Hagar would actually sit on the lap of Sarai as Abram inseminated her, to show that the child would legally belong to Sarai, as Hagar was merely a substitute for Sarai.  We see this practice plainly spelled out from the similar occasion of using a servant as a surrogate mother in the case of Rachel’s giving of Bilhah to Jacob when Rachel was barren. In that context, Genesis 30:3 reads: So she said, Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, and she will bear a child on my knees, that I also may have children by her.)     
     In any regard, Abram and Sarai’s impatience while waiting on the promise of the Lord made them vulnerable to acting in the flesh.  How many of us can identify with that weakness?  When we impatiently try to fulfill Gods promises in our own effort, it often accomplishes nothing and may even prolong the time until the promise is fulfilled.  In fact, it was 13 years before Hagar would bear Ishmael as Abram’s first-borne.
     As it is easy to imagine, Hagar became despised by Sarai.  Perhaps Abram doted on the boy … he finally had a son in his old age!  Or it is conceivable that Hagar thought herself above Sarai, and displayed some superiority, as well as disdain for her mistress.  And it is also easy to perceive that two women in one household, when one is jealous of the other, makes an unpleasant situation for the man of the house.  But they all shared in the sinful atmosphere — Hagar for her arrogance, Sarai for her impetuousness, and Abram for not being the spiritual leader of the house and demanding that they remain obedient to God’s promise.  It all resulted in conflict and hostility.  Which brings us to the present situation in Genesis 16:13….
     Hagar has fled the harsh actions of Sarai towards her, and escaped into the wilderness.  As she slumps by the spring on the way to Shur, she is visited by the Angel of the Lord, which is the pre-incarnate Jesus, who gives her a Promise of her own.  He instructs her to do something very difficult: return to her mistress and submit to her, whereby He would multiply her descendants exceedingly.  
     We know that He kept His promise.  Ishmael would become the father of all the Arabic peoples.  And the effects of the sins of Sarai, Abram, and Hagar have reached far beyond what they ever could have imagined.  Today’s battle between Jews and Arabs can be traced back to Abram’s decision to fulfill God’s promise in man’s wisdom and strength.
     While Hagar’s child, Ishmael, would not be the child of God’s original Promise, this passage in the Bible tells us that God would still bless and sustain them.  That should give us all hope.  This Scripture tells us that God sees our suffering and desires to touch our life when we suffer.  And Hagar knew this was no mere angel who appeared to her. She called Him the-God-Who-Sees, El Roi.  What a revelation it must have been to realize that the Great God of the Israelites was aware of her, an Egyptian slave girl, who was a ‘non-factor’ in the eyes of everyone else.  
    This is a great lesson for all of us.  We may feel insignificant; we may see ourselves as inconsequential.  But we are fully known. You might be a waitress, or a garbage man, or you might fry burgers at McDonalds.  But God sees you, even when others don’t.   It means you have significance in His eyes.  This should be a point of worship; it was for Hagar.  
     Because God fully knows all about you, you can find rest in being unknown. His complete awareness of you should encourage you and fill you with hope. You should feel significant, exceptional and worthy of His attention.  And because He knows of you and sees you, it should make your life purposeful.  You should feel like shouting to the heavens, He sees me!

Opinion: Taking sides…

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From Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Price acceptance speech in 1986: And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the […]

1 Samuel 15:23

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For rebellion is as [serious as] the sin of witchcraft,
And disobedience is as [serious as] false religion and idolatry.

     The circumstances of this rebuke by the Prophet Samuel to Israel’s first king, Saul, should be a reminder to us of the consequences of our own rebellion.  This particular passage stems from Saul’s disobedience to the Lord’s command to destroy all of the Amalekites.  The Amalekites had committed a terrible sin against Israel nearly 400 years before. When the nation was weak and vulnerable the Amalekites attacked the weakest and most vulnerable of the nation (Deuteronomy 25:18). They did this for no reasons except violence and greed. God hates it when the strong take cruel advantage over the weak, especially when the weak are His people.
     God still held this sin against the Amalekites because time does not erase sin before God. Among men, time should erase sin and the years should make us more forgiving to one another. But before God, time cannot atone for sin. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can erase sin, not time. In fact, it was time that the Amalekites were mercifully given as an opportunity to repent, but they did not do so. The hundreds of years of hardened unrepentant hearts made them more guilty, not less guilty.
     Now, God good have just smote the Amalekites as He did Sodom and Gomorrah, but it was His desire that His command to destroy them would be a test of obedience for Saul and all of Israel. And how did Saul perform?  He attacked the Amalekites as instructed by the Lord, but it was a selective, incomplete obedience. First, Saul took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. God commanded Saul to bring His judgment on all the people, including the king.
     Saul and the people then went on to spare “Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them:”  In other words, they kept the spoils of the war for themselves.  It is important to note that Scripture says, “Everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.”  Now, in a normal war in the ancient world, armies were freely permitted to plunder their conquered foes. This was often how the army was paid. But it was wrong for anyone in Israel to benefit from the war against the Amalekites, because it was an appointed judgment from God. 
     One commentary I read had this to say about the ramifications of disobeying God:  [The tracking of the spoils of war] was perhaps worst of all, because Israel did not show God’s heart in His judgment. When the Israelites came home happy and excited because of what they gained from the battle, they implied there was something joyful or happy about God’s judgment. This dishonored God, who brings His judgment reluctantly and without pleasure, longing that men would repent instead.
     We must acknowledge that in this case, and all cases of disobedience, partial obedience is complete disobedience.  And since King Agag and the Amalekites were considered the epitome of sin to God, to spare them was like sparing some part of evil, some self-indulgence, some favorite sin.
     And then the Lord informed the prophet Samuel of Saul’s disobedience, and of His grief over the king’s sin.  Now, the Prophet must discipline the king because he had set us a monument to himself on the way home from the battle.  Saul wasn’t grieved over his sin at all.  In fact, Saul was quite pleased with himself! There is not the slightest bit of shame or guilt in Saul, even though he directly disobeyed the LORD.
     (In coming chapters, God will raise up another man to replace Saul as king. David, in contrast to Saul, was known as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Even though David would also disobey God, the difference between him and Saul was great. David felt the guilt and shame one should feel when they sin. Saul didn’t feel it. His conscience was dead to shame and his heart was dead to God. Saul’s heart was so dead he could directly disobey God and still set up a monument for himself on the occasion).
     Saul then tries to excuse his sin to Samuel, by claiming that they spared the best of the sheep, oxen, and lambs as a sacrifice to the Lord.  But Samuel tells him to be quiet and listen to the judgment God would bestow on Saul for his disobedience.  Samuel goes on to ask the following question:  “Is the Lord as delighted is burnt offerings and sacrifices as He is to [our] obedience to His voice?  Let me tell you, to obey Him is better than [any] sacrifice, and to take to heart His commandment is better than the fat of any ram”.  In other words,  Religious observance and traditions, without obedience, is empty before God. The best sacrifice we can bring to God is a repentant heart (Psalm 51:16-17) and our bodies surrendered to His service for obedience (Romans 12:1).
     It’s as simple as this:  We could offer to make 1,000 sacrifices to God, or work ten thousand hours in service to Him, or give a million dollars to His work… But all these mean little if there is not a surrendered heart to God, shown by simple obedience.  Do what He tells you to do; Go where He tells you to go; and do it all with a willing and repentant heart.  That’s what honors Him!
     Then Samuel concludes with our selected Scripture today:  For rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft, and disobedience is like a false religion and idolatry: A rebellious, disobedient heart rejects God just as certainly as someone rejects God by occult practices or idolatry.  In fact, when Saul consciously disobeyed God, he was following his own self-will, and in essence placing his desires above God’s.  Following such self-delusion is, in in effect, a false religion… a worship of self, as god.  Saul rejected God’s supremacy, and the result was that God rejected Saul as king.  
     What is the lesson we can take from this tragic story?  There are many, but perhaps the most relevant has to do with how the future leader of this nation will obey the commandments of God, and if it will result in God’s pleasure or rejection.  Because, make no mistake.  God still judges the nations, just as He did the Amalekites.  Throughout the history of the world the nations have been standing before Christ’s bar and have been judged.  Nineveh stood there, Babylon stood there, Greece and Rome stood there, Spain and France stood there, Nazi Germany stood there. One after another has heard the solemn word – Depart, and they have passed into destruction.  How will the present nations fare?  How will the United States of America?  If we can take one lesson from King Saul’s destructive path, it should be this … God does not tolerate disobedience.  There will be a price to be paid.  And He makes it clear that He views our failure or refusal to obey Him very seriously.  Let us pray that our next leader has a repentant heart and a desire to obey His every command.

Isaiah 12:3

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With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

     We are in the midst of the Fall Feasts of the Lord.  The beginning of this week was Rosh Hahsanah, or the Feast of Trumpets.  October 11-12 is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, and the following week (October 16-23) is Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles.  As I have continued to point out, the Lord’s Feasts have great significance for both God’s Chosen People, the Jews, and us Christians, follows of Yeshua, the coming Messiah.  God established His Feasts as a memorial to His faithfulness throughout history to the nation of Israel as His Chosen People, and to all people who would believe in Him through all the coming generations.  
     The first four feasts have already been fulfilled, the first two by Jesus Christ on the actual feast days according to the Hebrew calendar. He was sacrificed on Passover, and resurrected on the Feast of First Fruits. The third Feast of Unleavened Bread carried great significance in light of His sinless life and His sacrifice, while the fourth Feast, Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks, was again fulfilled on the exact day on what we now call Pentecost.
     The Fall Feasts look forward to the fulfillment of Bible prophecy concerning Yeshua’s End Times’ return when He will come with trumpet blasts to usher in a new age of purified fellowship with Him in His new kingdom on earth.  And we are now in the midst of that sanctified season.  And for that reason, I think it is incumbent upon us to do a quick review of the holy significance of these two weeks in October.
     The Feast of Trumpets is a time of new beginnings.  There is even some speculation by Bible scholars that based on the view that John the Baptist was born in the spring, around Passover, and his birth preceded the birth of Jesus by 6 months (Luke 1:36), it’s possible to place the birth of the Messiah on the Feast of Trumpets.  That would definitely be representative of a new beginning for mankind!
     In 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 we read about the great trumpet (Shofar) that will sound in heaven when the dead who are in Yeshua will rise from their graves, and those who are still alive will go to meet Him in the air. This event precedes the return of the Messiah. The book of Revelation also talks about trumpets sounding in heaven as a series of judgments are poured out on the earth. All of this is to prepare the earth for the Messiah’s return. It is a warning—a wakeup to the earth and the inhabitants therein to get ready!  Does it mean that the Rapture of the Church will take place on this Feast Day?  It is possible, and Scripture hints at it.  But the Bible also says that the Church will be raptured when “the full number of gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).  If so, the rapture of the Church could happen on any given day, although Acts 15:13-18 makes it clear that the rapture will have to precede the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week.  Since no one knows the day or hour, I prefer to see the Feast of Trumpets as a time of prayer and repentance and acknowledging not only God’s grace, but His calling by the shofar to get ready for a new beginning in the history of mankind.
     Ten days later is Yom Kippur. Translated into English as the “Day of Atonement,” Yom Kippur was the only time of year the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place of the Temple to atone for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the entire nation. This was done by sacrificing a bull and a goat and sprinkling the blood of these animals on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. Also on this day, two goats were brought before the High Priest. He would lay hands on them and symbolically transfer the sins of the people into them. The first one was the sacrifice—the one that provided atonement for the people’s sins. The second, however, was the scapegoat. This one was released into the wilderness to wander and eventually die, removing sin from the camp. The blood of the first goat brought forgiveness. The second brought sanctification.
     Prophetically, The Day of Atonement will be the day in which God’s judgment will be rendered, the books will be closed and everyone’s fate is sealed.  It will be a solemn day of acknowledging our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness and mercy.  
     We need to understand that the shedding of blood has always been required for the forgiveness of sin, and it always will be. That is why the Messiah had to die and shed His blood for us. That is the good news. We have a Redeemer who exchanged His blood for ours. The debt we owe, for both intentional and unintentional sins, was paid by Yeshua through His death on the cross. All we have to do is accept His sacrifice on our behalf.
     The third and final Feast in this month of October is Sukkot, otherwise known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. Sukkot, which begins five days after Yom Kippur, is a seven-day period during which Jewish People look back into the history of Israel and remember their forty-year period of wandering in the wilderness.  To us Christians, the Feast of Tabernacles represents the Lord’s shelter in the world to come and His great Tabernacle that will exist in Jerusalem in the Kingdom Age.  The Lord will establish His Tabernacle in Jerusalem and the world will come each year to appear before the King and worship Him (Zechariah 14:14-17).  
     But there is another picture that presents itself during this final Feast.  Historically, it was also a  celebration of the fall harvest and the Lord’s bountiful provision.  Prophetically, it is a picture of the harvest of souls that will come at the End of this Age.  It should be easy to see that events that were external and physical in the Old Testament are often internal and spiritual in the New Testament.  There is a sense in which these holy days also reflect the life of every believer. 
     Jesus came to offer us new beginnings (Feast of Trumpets), and to live in our hearts at our new birth.  As He required the shedding of innocent blood to reconcile Himself with Israel (Yom Kippur) so He shed His own Blood to reconcile Himself with us. As He dwelt with the Israelites in the wilderness of Midian (Tabernacles), so He dwells with us in the wilderness of Earth. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” He promised (Matt 28:20).  Even so, Come Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22:20).  As we celebrate these Fall Feats of the Lord, you can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah. 

James 1:21-23

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Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, 
humbly receive the implanted Word, which is able to save you.
 But be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.


     There is much to digest in this short but significant passage.  James is exhorting us to abandon our impure lives in light of the goodness and righteousness of God that is offered to us.  The instruction to “rid ourselves of our moral filth and evil” make it very clear that, as humans, we have to constantly fight the temptation of our flesh.
     And it is very clear that unless we are able to do that, the second half of that exhortation cannot take place.  In order to humbly receive “the implanted Word”, we must abandon our immoral and impure flesh.  These two states of our human existence are held in stark contrast.  I actually like the English Standard Version (ESV) interpretation of this verse better … receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
     That term “meekness” insinuates that we have a teachable heart.  And as I have recently disclosed, it has become quite evident to me that our heart is most important to our ongoing salvation journey.  It is where God has written His laws.  We are given a new, circumcised heart when we accept Jesus as our Savior; circumcision being the sign of a covenant between God and His people.  Satan introduces sin to our heart, which then corrupts our minds and emotions, resulting in sinful behavior.  The heart is “at the heart”, so to speak, of our relationship with God.  
     So, in effect, James is telling us that we must be humble and meek — having a teachable heart — so that the Word might be implanted in our hearts; that we might receive it.   As the 19th Century theologian Charles Spurgeon so eloquently expounded:  “The first thing, then, is receive. That word ‘receive’ is a very instructive gospel word; it is the door through which God’s grace enters to us. We are not saved by working, but by receiving; not by what we give to God, but by what God gives to us, and we receive from Him.”
     But we need to receive the full meaning of this passage.  It is my opinion that James is telling us that there is spiritual power in the Word of God. It is very plainly stated … When the Word of God is implanted in the human heart, it is able to save your souls!   The Word of God carries the power of God!
     James then goes on to tell us how to receive that power of God … be doers of the Word and not hearers only.  And he takes it one step further — To pat yourself on the back that you have heard God’s Word, when you haven’t done it, is to deceive yourself. 
     It was common in the ancient world for people to hear a teacher. If you followed the teacher and tried to live what he said, you were called a disciple of that teacher.   That is what Jesus is looking for … disciples … doers … not just hearers.  He does not desire us to be admiring hearers, or loving/affectionate hearers; I don’t think He even desires faithful hearers!  I believe that Jesus needs us to be doers.  Our faith is meant to be active!  That is why James continues in this extended passage to say in verse 25, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”  
     And I further believe that the blessing he is talking about is not blessings in this life, but our inheritance and rewards in the next.  It will be the blessing we receive when we stand before our Lord at His Judgment Seat and He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  It will be the blessings of crowns bestowed upon our heads; crowns which we will cast at His feet because what we have received from Him, we are not worthy to gain.  It will be the blessings of ruling and reigning with Him because we didn’t just hear the Word, we acted upon it and showed Him and imitated Him to the lost of the world.  Those blessings only come when the Word has been implanted in our hearts; we receive it, hear it, and then act on it.  To only receive the Word and hear it, is to be religious.  But to have the Word implanted in your heart so that you hunger to hear it, understand it, and can do nothing but act on it is to be a true disciple of Christ.  May we all have such tender hearts.  

Matthew 16:18

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 And I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades (death) will not overpower it [by preventing the resurrection of the Christ].

    This is a very well known, and powerful Bible verse.  In fact, I have written on it before, but from a completely different perspective.  But because I believe that one Scripture can speak to us on multiple levels, I have no problem accepting both viewpoints.  
     First, let’s establish the context in which Jesus is speaking.  He has just asked one of His Disciples, Simon, son of Jonah, who men claim Jesus to be, and Simon bar-Jonah has answered that some say He is John the Baptist, while others say He is Elijah, Jeremiah, or another of God’s prophets.  But, Christ wants to know who Simon bar-Jonah says He is, and Simon answers truthfully, and correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” 
     Simon then receives Jesus’s blessing because he had received that knowledge directly from the Father, Himself, rather than man.  And then Jesus bestows upon Simon bar-Jonah a worthy designation … calling him Peter, which in Greek, was Petros, meaning a specific, detached large fragment of rock.  It is my opinion, that by bestowing that appellation on Peter, Jesus is signifying that Peter will be a solid, substantial disciple, fixed and stayed, and one that can be counted on for strength and stability in the face of opposition that will come concerning Him.
     This statement is followed by a comma, which in grammar is used for separating parts of a sentence such as clauses, and items in lists, particularly when there are three or more items listed.  Well we have three items listed here:  1) proclaiming Peter as a rock, or Petros (masculine form of the word),  2) on this rock, or Petra (feminine form of the word, meaning “a massive rock; a high rocky peak) Jesus will build His Church, and 3) the gates of Hades will not overpower it.  Besides the difference, in Greek, between Petros and Petra, this is the first indication that the second mention of “the rock” is different than the first.
     For as long as I can remember, the Church has taught that Jesus was declaring that He was building His Church upon Peter’s leadership  (whose name meant “rock”).  In fact, the Roman Catholic Church sees Peter as the first pope upon whom God had chosen to build His church, and that Peter had supremacy over the other apostles.  I’m sorry, but I do not see that in Scripture.
     Rather, it makes more sense to me that Jesus is praising Peter for his steadfastness and his faith, and then announces that He, Himself, will be the bedrock or cornerstone of His Church.  I can now read this simple sentence in a new light, and picture what it is portraying … Jesus with His hand on Peter’s shoulder, saying “Yes, you are a rock”.  Then, pointing to Himself, says, “And it is on this rock that I will build My church”.  Perhaps he laid his hand on his breast, as he did in John 2:19, Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
     Peter, himself, identifies Jesus as “the chief cornerstone” in 1 Peter 2, and refers to all believers as “living stones”.  There is no other rock upon which the Church stands.  It is imperative that we understand that Christ is both the Founder and the Foundation of the Church.  It just seems logical to me that Jesus was praising Peter for his accurate statement about Him, and was introducing His work of building the church upon Himself.
     And then because it is His Church, and He is the cornerstone and foundation upon which it is built, He goes on to declare that the forces of death and darkness can’t prevail against or conquer the Church. I like how the Greek New Testament states this truth:  And the councils of the unseen world cannot overpower it.  That certainly speaks to my understanding of the principalities, authorities, and rulers of wickedness in the spiritual realm that Paul refers to in Ephesians 6. 
     Another way to look at what Jesus is saying is that this is a declaration that neither the plots, strategies, nor strength of Satan and his angels, will ever destroy the sacred truths of the Gospel Message; that Jesus is the Son of God, He died to pay for our sins, and He was resurrected by the power of God. 
     We get the sense that Jesus is promising to preserve and secure His Church — that while the world still exists, Christ will have a Church in it, in spite of all the opposition of the powers of darkness… They shall not prevail against it.  
     This is the philosophical and psychological explanation of this profound Scripture.  But as I mentioned at the beginning, there is a different perspective.  And it happens to be the historical perspective, which sees this verse in the context of where they were standing when Jesus was speaking.  At the time that I wrote that post, I was convinced that the historical perspective was the correct one.  But I now believe that both perspectives have validity and have no problem accepting both positions as Truth, because neither invalidates the supremacy of Christ or His Church.  I believe that the Truth of the Bible is big enough to accommodate several levels of understanding.  That is what makes it such an amazing testament of our God!

Taking Another Look At “The Veils” Of Our Existence

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     Nearly three-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a post titled The Veils Of Our Existence.  It was based on a theory proposed by the late Don Harkin, former Editor of The Idaho Observer.  Mr. Harkin suggested the existence of a world system of Power-Elites that the masses don’t comprehend because these Power-Elites have cleverly developed a virtual pasture so green that few people seldom, if ever, bother to look up from where they are grazing to notice that they are being led over the cliff.
     Three-and-a-half years ago, my level of understanding of these “veils” did not include the spiritual battle that was being waged at each stage.  I still think each of these stages exists and is valid, and in order to progress to a higher understanding of just how we are to maneuver through this existence called life, we must be able to pierce each successive veil and move to the next level.  It is part of our human journey on this earth… only now, I see this journey with the added benefit of spiritual eyes. So I would like to revisit this interesting speculation, and add a new spiritual perspective to Mr. Harkins’ conjecture.  I’m interested to know how many of you have grown in your understanding, as well.
       The First Veil = Politics. There are over 7 billion+ people on the planet.  Most of them will live and die without seriously thinking about anything other than what it takes to live and breathe for one more day.  That means that 90% of all humanity will live behind this first veil and never pierce it.  That leaves 10% of us who will vote, be active in our societies and have an opinion.  Our opinions are often shaped by government officials, MSM or other “experts” who claim to be voices of authority.  But of those with an opinion, 90% will never really think for themselves and will adopt the opinion of others, while 10% will pierce the second veil and move forward in their thinking.
     My New Perspective:  All this remains true, but now I see that there are spiritual forces behind those involved in the government, Mainstream Media, and “experts”, or voices of authority.  Of those of us within the 10% who form their own opinion, how many understand that politics is not the answer — that our power will not come from our affiliation with whomever wins elections, but from Jesus Christ?  And what small percentage of that 10% realizes that our time on this earth should not be spent supporting man-made power structures, but using our power from Christ to “do the things He has done, only greater”? (John 14:12).
     The Second Veil = History.  There will be 10% of us who will explore the world of history, the relationship between man and government, which will lead to the meaning of self-government through constitutional and common law.  Ninety percent of this group will live and die without going on to pierce the third veil.
     My New Perspective:  The Constitution is no longer my route to real freedom.  Man’s laws and self-government will only get me so far.  My true freedom lies in letting Jesus heal my spiritual wounds, and recognizing that I don’t have to suffer the “fiery darts” of the Enemy.  The history that consumes me now are the experiences of those — both from the ancient world, and the modern — who have learned what it means to transcend the tyranny and oppression from the spiritual realm to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.  That is true freedom.
     The Third Veil = Resources of the World.  Of the group that pierces this veil, 10% of us will come to realize that the masses are controlled by extremely wealthy and powerful families whose old world assets have been manipulated to become the foundation upon which the world’s economy is currently indebted.  (Think Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, the Royal Monarchs).  But sadly, 90% of this group will never pierce the fourth veil.
     My New Perspective:  Yes, the masses are controlled by these extremely wealthy and powerful families; and behind them are the spiritual forces of wickedness and evil.  I believe that they have sold their souls for earthly wealth and power that will prove false when the Day of Judgment comes.

 The Fourth Veil = The Illuminati, Freemasonry and other secret societies.  There are 10% of us that recognize these societies use symbols and perform ceremonies that transfer mysterious knowledge that is used to keep us ordinary people in political, economic and spiritual bondage to the oldest bloodlines on earth.  This has been seen frequently at Super Bowl halftime shows (Beyonce flashing “the Rockefeller” sign; Madonna sporting symbols of the occult) and during the Grammy’s (Nikki Minaj’s ode to “Roman”, the demon whom she says possesses her).  Just check out the Youtube videos for each of these demonstrations!  But once again, 90% of those who have reached this level of understanding will never pierce the fifth veil.
     My New Perspective:  Boy, has my understanding of this grown in the last few years!  The Lord has shown me just how much devastation has been sown on families steeped in these secret societies.  The oaths and curses taken during secret ritual ceremonies have resulted in great oppression among many Christians, who don’t even know these secret societies have permeated their families or their Churches!  And the evidence that these societies have infiltrated our entertainment industry is overwhelming.  I am literally seeing the signs and symbols everywhere I look throughout our culture.  Sadly, I believe that our country is steeped in the occult mysticism associated with these groups, and they are influencing every area of our lives.
     The Fifth Veil = Technological advances by these Secret Societies. I may lose some of you at this point, but I urge you to do your own research and study the Bible in depth.  There are hints of the knowledge behind this fifth veil, but you have to be willing to connect the dots.  There are 10% who make it this far in their understanding who learn that the secret societies are so far advanced technologically that they are able to do things that were considered science fiction just decades ago.  The inventions of Ray Kurzweil and his prediction of “man’s singularity with computers” is an example of such advanced technology.  But what’s interesting is that this technology is actually ancient, and compares to what Nimrod was trying to accomplish at the Tower of Babel; namely to become like God.    Are we getting dangerously close to that concept again?  Nearly 90% will never get beyond this understanding to the sixth veil.
     My New Perspective:  To say that technology has surpassed science fiction is putting it mildly.  Human-animal hybrids are being created in Great Britain, and a surgeon plans to reanimate human corpses.  Books are being written that tell us immortality is accessible to everyone, outside of any religious worldview.  Inventors and artists openly admit that they are “channeling” spiritual sources of knowledge.  All this is being downloaded from entities in the spiritual realm to control and deceive the human race.  We better understand who we’re dealing with.
       The Sixth Veil = Aliens and Monsters may be real.  It is going to take a huge leap for the 10% who get to this level of understanding.  But if you study your Bible closely, you will see mention of fallen angels mating with earthly women to give birth to Nephalim (Giants) (Genesis 6:4 and 2 Samuel 21:20, for example).  There are many modern-day Biblical scholars who are prepared to say that the minotaurs of old and the UFO and alien sightings of today are evidence of these fallen angels.
     My New Perspective:  My how far we’ve come in these last three-and-a-half years!  The growth of the remnant of the Church who understands the truth of Genesis 6 has been astounding!  I know that there are “spiritual monsters” and they are called demons.  I have encountered them in deliverance sessions, and seen them stare out of the eyes of people who had no idea they were being oppressed by them.  Savage and brutal and bizarre attacks upon people are increasing and are evidence that the Enemy is bringing the spiritual battle to our physical world.  Although, yes, these demons are real, we should have no fear because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.
     If you have made it this far and can conceive of the concepts behind the sixth veil, then perhaps you can see that what waits for us behind The Seventh Veil = Peace of the Lord.  It’s hard to imagine, but I can foresee a small group of people whose soul is so evolved that they can exist on this earth, yet be unafraid of the evil that abounds in this realm.  The only way I can describe it is to have such peace from God that you are unafraid of death.
     My New Perspective:  Actually, my perspective has moved in a new direction on this veil.  It’s not such a small group that sees the evil ascending on the earth from the second heaven, or spiritual realm.  These last few years has seen an amazing growth in this knowledge within the Body of Christ.  It’s as if the Holy Spirit has done a massive data dump upon Christians!  We not only know that and discern this spiritual warfare, but we also have been given the knowledge that we have the Authority of Jesus to fight [in this war] through the Power of the Holy Spirit.  And that’s where our Peace comes from… knowing that we can rebuke the devil and he will flee; knowing that the Lord is our banner in this fight and goes before us; and we know that Jesus will not only never leave us nor forsake us, but He who began a good work in us will complete it.  That is called Peace!
     That brings us to Harkins’ Eighth veil, which can only be the pure energy, authority and life force that is God.  We can only hope to tap into that Power, and I think the closest we can come to that is to seek a personal, intimate relationship with the One True God, the Ruler of the Universe and abide in Him.
     My New Perspective:  Yes, a personal, intimate relationship is necessary to tap into that Power, but it is incumbent upon each of us to know that it is available to us.  We are not to be mindless robots, sitting idly by waiting for God to win this war all by Himself.  We are created in His image, exhorted to imitate Christ, and called to an inheritance in Christ.  He dwells in us!  That energy, authority and life force are not to be squandered, but used to gain ground in defeating the Enemy in our lives!
     So, as you can see, with each veil of understanding that is pierced, the number of people “who see” gets exponentially smaller.  When I first wrote this blog post over three years ago, I saw mainly through “worldly” eyes.  I was focused on “the low information voter”, and the gullible citizens who I saw as useful idiots and tools of the state.  I actually thought my vote really mattered and changing the politics of the nation would solve the world’s problems.  I didn’t see the spiritual component.
     I can honestly say that I believe I am at that Eighth veil, and I so grateful to my Lord and the Holy Spirit for helping me to see through the murkiness of the veils and how they obscured my vision of God’s Truth.  I see that my existence here on earth is more than just this physical realm, and my victory in this life depends on my readiness to work with Jesus and the Holy Spirit to do battle with the spiritual realm.  I now truly know that I do not battle against flesh and blood, but have the Authority and Power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to free myself of spiritual bondage.
     I will admit that it’s a long road to progress through these veils, and if you are just beginning to awaken to their reality, then I hope you can see that living, breathing and thinking are just the beginning to greater understanding.  And there is nothing to fear… we know that victory is ours in the next life.  Until then, it an honor to stand for our Lord and represent Him to all we come in contact with, and to help others to push through the veils.  As we teach them the meaning of each obstruction, and show them how to move to the next stage, it will be one less obstacle between them and God.  That is a goal worthy of effort by every Christian.

2 Corinthians 3:16-17      “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

Romans 16:21-24

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 Timothy, my coworker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my fellow countrymen, greet you.

 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.

 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus greet you.

 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m always fascinated to know about the names of the people who have the distinction of being mentioned in the Bible.  It is by no accident that we are introduced to them, and, here at the end of the Book of Romans, Paul makes the special effort to let the Roman Christians know that he and his fellow workers (who are at the Church in Corinth) send them their thoughts and prayers.  Remember, the Christians of Rome were unpopular; reputed to be “enemies of the human race” and credited with such vices as incest and cannibalism.  So to be remembered by other Christians would give them strength to continue in their faith.
    So, who were these men who Paul mentioned by name?  We are all familiar with Timothy, his “beloved son” in the faith, but I bet you didn’t know that Lucius, Jason and Sosipator were Paul’s relatives.  He mentions Tertius, the man to whom Paul dictated the letter, and Gaius, in whose home the Church in Corinth met.  Also meeting with them is a prominent politician, Erastus, the city treasurer, and their brother Quartus.  
     It is important to notice that Tertius, which means “Third”, and Quartus, which means “Fourth” were most likely slaves, who were not given names when they were born, but often given the number that corresponded to their birth order.  Tertius and Quartus were likely brothers who were educated slaves and had become Christians. They can read and write, and are part of this group in Corinth.
     Lucius appears to be the same one who comes from Cyrene, mentioned in Chapter 13 of Acts as one of the teachers in the city of Antioch. Jason was evidently Paul’s host when the apostle went to the city of Thessalonica, in Macedonia. Paul stayed in Jason’s home when a riot broke out in the city. Sosipater may be the man from Beroea, mentioned in Acts 20 as “Sopater.” Paul met him in Macedonia and may have accompanied him to Jerusalem with the offering to the churches there.  
     I think we can agree that all these mentioned by Paul were noted for their steady, tested commitment, and their faithfulness to the gospel.  Today we Christians give in so easily to the world’s philosophy of life — live for your own pleasure, focus on retiring at the end of your life and discontinuing your work. The early Christians did not believe that.  They worked tirelessly their entire lives to spread the Gospel message.  So what can we learn from how they lived their lives in Christ?
     1)  They were not their own; they belonged to Christ.  God had called them out of their lives in the world and He would direct their paths.  Do we think like that, or do we fit God in whenever we have a few spare minutes in our selfish lives?
     2)  They believed that this life in Christ was a battle to the death.  They were engaged in warfare that never ended until they left this life, so they kept on fighting.  Do we live our lives battling for the Lord, or are we fighting for our own comforts and security?
     3)  They believed in rest and leisure only as a means to restore themselves to get back in the battle.  There was no thought of “retirement” or taking a vacation; this was their life’s work until their last breath.  How do we view our life’s work, and could we devote every day until the end to working for the Lord?
     4)  Finally, they understood that the gifts of the Holy Spirit  — that they each one possessed to some degree — opened up a ministry for every single believer.  No Christian was without a ministry.  Some of these dear people could not teach or preach, but they had the gift of helps, and they did that, right to the end.  What excuse do we have?  Do we even try to understand what gift we have and how we can use it to serve the Lord and the community of Believers?  Or are we focused on how to enjoy our life in this world?
     I think this passage reminds us that God has called us all to a ministry, and we all have to give an account for what we have done with both our natural gifts and our spiritual gifts. We had better find out what they are and go to work for Him, because God has not called us to a picnic or a party. He has called us to serve Him with our hearts, mind, soul, and strength.  
      

My Perspective On The New Apostolic Reformation Movement

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     The direction of today’s Church follows many paths.  I am literally astounded at the leniency of some church leaders who would be willing to see the “spiritualism” of an event like Burning Man on par with the experience of The Early Church at Pentecost.  But then again, I am equally amazed at those who refuse to consider what the Bible has to stay about the supernatural in our Christian experience.  That presents a wide spectrum in the observance of our faith.  But I also truly believe that, at this time, there is an increase in the desire for knowledge about God among the Body of Christ and The Church; within that reality, it is also a time to be cautious when seeking new understanding.
     In my own quest, Scripture has been my center of focus as I am trying to discern what it means to be a follower of Christ, according to the Bible.  I am trying to know The Most High God in a deeper and personal way, and seek His Truth about who He is and who I am, in Him.  That being said, it has become apparent to me that while other Christians are doing the same thing, there have grown new ideas of what that looks like, and new movements that have risen out of that pursuit for knowledge.  Differing interpretations of the Bible have given rise to new theologies and new movements, with the result being that we must be very careful in forming our own understanding of what God’s Word is saying to those of us called by His Name.  And, we need to be careful to approach each other in love, when discussing our differences.
     To be honest, I have tried to listen exclusively to the Holy Spirit to guide me to the truth of the Word.  In that process, I have discovered that it has been necessary to discern which doctrines of the traditional Church still ring true to the commands of Jesus, and which are man-made rules that do not serve Him according to His Word.  In the same manner, I see that these new movements and theologies require the same examination.  And, once again being honest, I have been unaware of the “official” names of these groups and their guiding principles, because it has been my desire to quit following the ways of man, and follow the Biblical path towards Jesus.  So, I am reluctant to follow any stringent rules or guidelines in order to identify with particular “movements”.   But I feel it is important to know what these groups believe in order to know where they stand, Biblically, and to be able to defend my own theology.

     So, today, I wish to introduce you to the New Apostolic Reformation Movement and explain it as I understand it.  I do not wish to disparage this movement’s desire for Truth, but I think it is inherent that each of us pray for guidance and discernment so that we are not led astray.  I am fully aware that I do not have the secret counsel of God, nor have I cornered the market on wisdom — none of us have all the answers, and while we may find agreement on various principles, we are probably not going to agree on every aspect of each other’s belief systems.  I also believe the Bible when it says that we are one body, with many parts; and that God may reveal, through His Spirit, one aspect of Himself, while revealing an additional facet of His Character to another.  But it is very important to do your homework, and to know exactly what groups and movements and theological camps believe … and then to compare it to Scripture.  The Bible tells us that the Church will become “apostate” in the latter days, and it is incumbent upon each of us to be wise and discerning, so that we do not fall away from God’s Truth.
     So, let’s get down to the basics … the New Apostolic Reformation Movement (NAR) appears to be a loose collection of non-denominational and independent churches rallying around a particular set of biblical interpretations.  Primary to their belief system seems to be the idea that God is raising up a new order of apostles and prophets who have been commissioned by Him to affect our culture and society.  Furthermore, the NAR movement teaches that because God’s intended form of church governance is apostles and prophets, their leadership status is over evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Only now, as the church is properly guided by these appropriate spiritual leaders, can it fulfill its commission from Jesus. This commission is seen as more than spiritual, as it includes cultural and political control.
     If my research is correct, they believe as the church unifies behind the apostles, these leaders will develop greater and greater supernatural powers. Eventually, this will include the ability to perform mass healings and suspend the laws of physics. Prophets in the New Apostolic Reformation are almost as important as apostles. These people have been empowered to receive “new” revelations from God that will aid the church in establishing dominion. (According to the New Apostolic Reformation, only prophets, and occasionally apostles, can obtain new revelations. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers cannot). The prophets’ new revelations are crucial to overcoming the world, and the success of the church depends on the apostles following through on the information prophets provide.
     On the surface, this movement might not seem too dangerous.  For sure, prophecy played an important part in the Old Testament, and those prophecies have been accurately fulfilled.  And, I will agree that far too many pastors ignore the Bible prophecy that exists in the New Testament; specifically Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation.  In fact we are told there are those pastors like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren who don’t “feel called” to preach on the the End Times prophecies because “it frightens people and keeps them from living a victorious life right now” (Osteen); and “those who focus on Bible prophecy are not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Warren).
     Here is where I stand … Prophecy is important, and God gave us the prophecy He wants us to have and understand in Scripture (in both the Old and New Testaments).  On more careful examination and discernment, I don’t see Scripture telling me that God will give us new prophets in these days.  And the NAR seems [to me] to put too much emphasis on man’s sovereignty in bringing about the return of Jesus.  It’s as if they are saying our commission from Jesus is to control every sphere of influence on earth, so we can bring about a sort of Utopia that they define as the Kingdom of God on earth.

     But is that really what Jesus commanded us to do in what is called The Great Commission?  In my opinion that commandment was explicitly expressed in Acts 1:8, when Jesus tells His disciples, you will receive power and ability when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be My witnesses [to tell people about Me] both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth, and when He reiterates His command in Matthew 28:19-20: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you.  
     According to New Apostolic thinking, mankind lost its dominion over earth as part of the fall of Adam. So Jesus’ First Coming and His sacrifice on the cross not only resolved our sin debt, but it empowered mankind—specifically, Christians—to retake control of the earth. The New Apostolic Reformation sees seven areas in which believers are supposedly empowered and expected to dominate: government, arts, finances, education, religion, family, and media. Of these, the New Apostolic Reformation sees government as the most important because of its ability to influence all of the other facets of life. As a result, the New Apostolic Reformation overtly encourages Christian control over politics, culture, and business.
     While I cannot dispute that if we modeled our lives on the way Jesus lived His, we would naturally influence these spheres, I do not see the Great Commission as a commandment to dominate these physical sectors of our society.  I interpret both passages in Acts and Matthew as Jesus giving us a spiritual mission to reach the hearts and minds of people; not an earthly mission to control our culture.  Notice that the power comes from the Holy Spirit, not from man … it is a spiritual mission!  That is what the Bible says.
     The Bible tells us that the Kingdom of God is not based on talk, put on power (1 Corinthians 4:20); it is not brought about by man’s efforts, but exists in spiritual power.  Jesus, Himself, said in Mark 7:6-7, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men”.  And again, Paul tells us, “for the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking [what one likes], but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  It’s spiritual!  We are not to involve ourselves with the affairs of the world, but to win souls (hearts, minds, emotions) for Christ!  Didn’t the Early Church of Acts disengage from the affairs of their world and turn to spiritual power to win the hearts and minds of unbelievers?
     Who among us is not concerned about the economy and the upcoming election and the effects they will have on our physical lives and those of coming generations?  And I have been hearing more talk about Pastors who have decided to challenge the “separation of church and state” that has been followed for several decades, and engage their congregations with their “moral duty” to vote “their conscience”.  But I have to ask you this:  Is that part of our commission from our Lord?  Does who is President really matter to your mission to win souls for Christ?  Does your power and authority come from whoever is President … or from Jesus and the Holy Spirit?  If we are be to like Jesus, whose business must we be occupied with?  This world’s, or God’s?
     Did God give Jesus power and influence to affect the political scene in Judea and Jerusalem; did He attempt to change the educational system in the synagogues; did He engage with those responsible for the financial system among the Jews?  The Bible tells us to imitate Christ, whom “God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with great power; [so that] He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with Him.” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  THAT IS OUR MISSION!
     I want to wrap up my discussion with the hope that I have not misrepresented this movement, because I know how a word here or there can totally distort what one believes; I have been misinterpreted and misunderstood numerous times.  And I sincerely believe that Christians who count themselves as adherents to the NAR movement believe they are interpreting Scripture correctly.  And do I think it will affect their salvation or eternity in Heaven with our Lord?  No.  But, in the end, I am concerned with putting too much emphasis on changing physical situations in the world.  After all, it is not the physical condition of the world that is a sign of the Kingdom of God.  It is the spiritual condition of those who will receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  And it is that spiritual condition of all mankind that we should be seeking to change.

John 18:36    Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

You Can Never Hear It Enough: We Are Called to Freedom

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     Once again, someone who has been freed from their spiritual bondage has asked if they could share their testimony.  I will never turn down an opportunity for anyone to hear of the Power and Authority of Jesus over the darkness of slavery to our Adversary.  There is hope in this testament of personal struggle, and affirmation that you can be delivered from the deception, schemes, lies, and outright attacks designed to rob you of who you were made to be.  People who have experienced the freedom that Jesus offers can say it better than I ever can.  So, read these wise and authentic words and let your spirit respond to them.  It is for this kind of freedom, that Jesus came to die for us.

     I am at a place where I can look back on all the terrible events of my life and not feel pain. I gave my pain to Jesus and stopped looking back. I would like to share some of my story, because I couldn’t ever find anyone who could understand what was going on inside me. My goal in sharing is to help others see that it is possible to get free, and stay free. Please know you are not alone.
     A little background … I was raised in a church. I attended youth groups and went through confirmation. I had perfect attendance at Sunday school most years. I even taught Sunday school when I was old enough. Sadly, I never had any kind of relationship with God. Looking back, I’m not sure many people there did. I think we were all just part of a church, and we did what was expected by our family and community. I never heard anything about demons, that’s for sure!
     From the outside looking in, my family looked just as normal as anyone else’s. We went to church every Sunday, participated in community events, and we were pretty well known because one of my parents worked at the school. Nobody knew what my life was like, and for a long time I had no idea there was anything wrong with it.
     My parents were alcoholics. I lived in fear of the next time that they would drink so much that they would become violent with each other, or worse, me. My father turned a blind eye to his friends sexually abusing me for years. My mom turned a blind eye to my brother physically abusing me as well. When I was still pretty young my father died, and my mother began bringing home any man she could find at the bar. When I told her one of them was being inappropriate she didn’t believe me. I saw rejection everywhere I turned.
     The feelings I had led to my own self-destructive behavior. I started cutting when I was about 12. I would sit in my room for hours carving away at my flesh. It was the only thing I knew to do to numb the pain I felt. Then I started drinking. My parents provided alcohol to me and any of my friends that wanted it. I was able to numb my pain that way for a while. The problem with cutting and drinking was the pain always came back, and usually worse.
     My next attempt to numb my pain was sex. A married teacher of mine offered to have sex with me and I took him up on it. I thought if I could find someone that cared about me I would feel better. Obviously, a married man 20+ years older than me did not care about me at all, but I couldn’t see it at the time. I did whatever he wanted seeking his approval, but of course I never got it. It just made me feel worse and worse about myself.
     The first time I was raped, it was by a guy that I had gone on a date with. After the date we went to the place he was staying to make out, and he didn’t stop. I blamed myself for letting it go too far before telling him no. He told me it was my fault. I fought him, and when he was strangling me I realized that if I continued to fight he would probably kill me. For a year I kept that to myself, festering like a sore, until I just couldn’t keep it contained anymore. I wanted to hear that it wasn’t my fault.
     Statistics show that after someone is raped it is highly likely they will be raped again. Well that held true for me. I was raped by a group of 3 men at work. As a result, I got pregnant. It was the most horrific thing I could imagine. I hated who I was. I hated the thoughts that I had. I wanted to die.
     Throughout all these things I began to dislike God more and more. I couldn’t understand why he was letting these terrible things happen to me over and over again. I didn’t know what I did to deserve the things that were happening to me. I couldn’t talk about any of it, so nobody understood. I tried to lock it all away, but it would all come back like a flood and there was nothing I could do to control any of it. I tried to read scripture but I literally couldn’t make myself open the Bible.
     A good friend introduced me to Belle and her husband, and I thought they were all crazy. I had never heard of these demons they talked about and I didn’t want to do the work they seemed to think was necessary for me to be free. I was afraid to scare them away if I told them how truly bad it was. I gave them little snippets, hoping to not run them off. In retrospect I think they understood what was going on better than I did. I told them that I had a switch inside me that I couldn’t control. When the switch flipped I wouldn’t want help anymore. That happened several times. I would just completely shut down and get very defensive with them. I knew they were only trying to help, but I just couldn’t prevent that switch from flipping. I also knew without a doubt that I wanted help, but I didn’t know how to make them understand that. One day as I was leaving, after basically wasting everyone’s time, I got to my car and realized I just couldn’t leave. I sat in the dirt and stared at the chickens for a very long time. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Leaving felt like giving up on myself, but staying wasn’t an option either.
     A few months later I had a near death experience, and realized that I couldn’t die like I was living. I didn’t want to spend eternity in hell. It was time to get free, no matter what it took.
     I called and talked to Belle’s husband, who seemingly has the patience of a saint. I cried and begged him for one more chance, and for some reason they gave it to me. Walking in the door that day I knew I was going to come out a different person. They walked me through some of the exercises. The biggest for me was replaying those terrible events from my past and seeing Jesus physically present at each one. In some scenes he would be sitting in the corner, sometimes standing right beside me, but always weeping. He couldn’t make those terrible things stop, but seeing Him cry for me changed everything. He loves me the way I always wanted to be loved. I never got that love from my parents, or the men that I slept with. I finally could stop seeking that, because now I knew what unconditional love was. I was finally at peace with the things that had happened to me. I was able to forgive those people that had hurt me, even the ones that never asked for it. I got free that day, and I will never go back to that old me!
     Today, my life is so much different. I sleep at night. I don’t stress over things I can’t control. I give my problems to God. I have the most amazing relationship with Him. Most importantly, I cannot wait to see Him in the throne room because I know I am saved.

     I know that this may have been hard for some of you to read… it is raw, sometimes brutal, and very emotional.  But it is not uncommon.  It makes me sad that so many Christians are suffering pain and spiritual wounds because they have not been taught that satan can use not only your sins, but the sins of others that have been committed against you, to keep you in spiritual bondage.  Could Jesus intervene and stop the abuse?  Absolutely!  But one of God’s sovereign characteristics is that He does not interfere with the free will of those He has created — even if it means we might be damaged in the process.  To do otherwise, would not glorify Him when we allow Him to show us that He was present during our pain.  And in the process, He helps us to forgive those who have sinned against us, just as we want to be forgiven our own sins.  And we come out the other side of Deliverance a changed person; a transformed person; a free person.  Praise God for His Sovereignty and His Abounding Love!

Ephesians 2:8         “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”

Burning Man 2016: Can A Christian Find God At A Pagan Celebration?

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“DaVinci’s Workshop”
Burning Man 2016 Theme

    Once again, the images coming out of the festival called Burning Man remind me of a New Age Woodstock; or as one attendee described it, “It’s kind of like the Star Wars bar scene in a Mad Max movie”. It is variably called, “a counter-culture phenomenon”; “the largest pagan celebration in the world”; and “an experience of spiritual connection”.  But connection to what, or whom?
    Larry Harvey, the founder of the Burning Man Festival on the Summer Solstice in 1986 says, “I’ve never believed in a Supreme Being, but I do believe that Being is Supreme.  That’s a subtle distinction; but a spiritual notion”.  Really?!?!  Harvey, in case you haven’t guessed, is a self-professed atheist, and his statement has about as much substance as “the nothingness” in which he believes.
     But an interesting fact about Burning Man appears to be that more and more Christians are attending, and I was curious to see how the event was represented, both from a cultural perspective and a spiritual viewpoint.  This year’s theme was Da Vinci’s Workshop, and the symbol of this year’s festival was DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man.
     The Burning Man website described the 2016 festival as “inspired by the Italian Renaissance, when an historic convergence of inspired artistry, technical innovation and enlightened patronage launched Europe out of medievalism and into modernity. Our story will focus on … humanist ideals, a rediscovery of science, and funding from a newly moneyed class of entrepreneurs [which will fund] a revolutionary cultural movement that [will] redefine Western civilization. Five centuries later, we will attempt to recreate this potent social alchemy by combining Burning Man art, maker culture and creative philanthropy to make Black Rock City the epicenter of a new renaissance.”  I think I can sum up that high-sounding characterization in a few words … Man as Creator; creating a bridge between science and spirituality.
     DaVinci himself called his symbol “The Magical Proportions of Man”, and explained it like this:  “The outstretched arms and legs of a man form a square and a circle: the square symbolizes the solid physical world and the circle the spiritual and eternal. Man bridges the gap between these two worlds.”   So … I wanted to know how it was possible to seek true spirituality while attending a festival that is described as “notoriously hedonistic. There are naked people, and a lot of sex, drugs, alcohol, and all-night raves. But for many, Burning Man is also a spiritual pursuit.”

     I read over a half-dozen accounts (and watched a documented film version) of people claiming to be Christian, who have attended the Festival over the last few years, and I guess I wasn’t surprised to find a wide difference of opinion.   Here is what George Otis Jr., president of The Sentinel Group (a Christian research agency), wrote of his experience in the year 2000:  “On Saturday night, the hell-themed [festival] reached its crescendo in the form of a drama….These people were literally celebrating the fact that one day they would enter hell. To simulate their journey, the camp’s center stage was transformed into the “Vestibule of Hell.” The guest of honor was none other than “Papa Satan.”….As the lecherous Papa Satan bowed in mock chains before a placard reading “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” a group called “Idiot Flesh,” [supposedly Christians] dressed as hooded executioners, began to play a discordant dirge accompanied by flashing strobes. When the crowd started its torchlight procession toward the Gates of Hell and an eerie, sculpted castle called The City of Dis, I sensed an unmistakable chill in the air. Our march had been joined by unseen, malevolent guests….nudist and a moving sea of devil banners [also] moved around us….At the tri-tower City of Dis, our descent into the Inferno reached a demonic sanctuary….While massive loudspeakers pumped out a hellish bass tone accompanied by tormented screams….people dressed as demonic insects celebrated by copulating with other captured souls. It was a scene that looked as if it had been plucked from a horrific nightmare. Mesmerized by the evocative music, the performers began to chant, “Devil’s delight, fire tonight!” Wood piles inside the towers of Dis were ignited, causing orange flames to belch forth from the eyes and mouths of demonic gargoyles built onto the turrets. As the heat became more intense, the entourage danced around the towers. Satan had defeated the church.”
     Then in 2015, the website Christianity Today, featured an article written by Dr. Rick Richardson, an Anglican priest, and Associate Professor of Evangelicalism at Wheaton College, a Christian Liberal Arts college.  Dr. Richardson attended the festival at the invitation of his son, who did not connect with the organized church.  At first he saw the gathering as one big party, which he concedes it was, but soon found himself praying for a young woman whom he sensed had a broken heart.  I will let him finish telling you about his encounter:  “I prayed for the presence and power of God to heal her heart and fill her and use her in the lives of others. At the end of the prayer time, she wept and expressed that she had come 1000 miles to hear that word from God. I told her about Jesus’ love for her and she responded over the next several days, becoming open to Jesus for the first time in her life.”  

A worshipper praying to her pagan god, Osiris,
at Burning Man 2013

     Dr. Richardson continued, “Here is one thing I have already discovered. Many of the people driving the rise of these new spiritualities that mix Buddhist, Hindu, Native American, and New Age ideas, come from the church. That’s right. They are the formerly churched. And they are not hostile to their background. Not at all. It just never captured them … but [they] are still hungry for spiritual connection and meaning. Nature abhors a vacuum, and these new spiritualities are filling the spiritual vacuum left by unsatisfactory church connections.”
     But what spirits are they connecting to?  Just because you’re having a spiritual encounter, you can’t assume it is with YHWH! Or maybe that doesn’t really matter to the attendees!
     Then there was an interview on the documentary video I watched with a woman pastor in a tent called “The Freedom Lounge”.  The film admitted that this was the “charismatic” flavor of the presence of the Church at Burning Man.  She said, “We invite [the people] to have an encounter with the One who made them.  When they meet the Holy Spirit, which we call the Spirit of Truth, they are rocked!  Personally, I am a follower of Jesus, and that’s where my power comes from.  But I am seeing that there is a lot of anger here about the structure we put around the Church.  When we show them they can have a personal encounter, and feel the presence of that Love, and get filled up with it, then they have a spiritual connection that is very real”.
     Okay, so that leaves me with a couple of questions … Is the move from pure self-indulgence in 2000, towards spirituality in the last couple of years, centered in ecumenicalism?  In reality, isn’t humanism what’s really being worshipped?
     In my research, I had no problem finding quotes from attendees who expressed that they listened for the voice of “the Spirit”, and had a spiritual encounter.  Remember the Anglican priest from Wheaton College, the Christian college?  He also said that many of the values of Burning Man are “worthy of Scripture, including radical inclusion (what Christians call grace!), community effort, civic responsibility, and leaving no trace on the environment. Burners also practice a culture of gifting (everyone brings a gift to the community, reminiscent of the Body of Christ) ….  If we can learn from spiritually diverse Burners why they have embraced new and alternative spiritualities, and if we can learn from Christian groups who are reaching them, maybe we could see a new Jesus movement in this decade, not unlike what happened in the 60s”.
     But the question, for me, becomes who is influencing whom?  Because there is no room for compromise when it comes to the One True God.  So, is this just another attempt by “the Church” to appear accommodating to alternative spiritual paths?  And then there are the stories and images of attendees seeking portals; worshipping idols and false gods; making sacrifices to honor the earth … all things that God detests.  Yes, we are to engage with the world by taking the message of Christ to them.  But I think we flirt with danger when our priority changes from speaking God’s unyielding Truths to trying to understand and appeal to alternative spiritualities.
     Unfortunately, this approach is very appealing to our youth, the unchurched, and those recently disillusioned with religion.  But here’s what it looks like to me:  Combining mysticism, rationalism, and humanism with an alternative form of Christianity in order to create a new definition of “church”, “faith”, or “spirituality” still looks like paganism to me.  And, in the end, I just have to ask, Does this please The Most High God?

Ezekiel 20:7    Then said I unto them, Cast away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Daniel 3:4-6

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Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “You are commanded, 
O peoples, nations, and speakers of every language, 
that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, 
pipe, lyre, trigon (four-stringed harp), dulcimer, bagpipe, 
and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not 
fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.”

     I love it when I am reading my Bible and I discern a new layer being revealed.  Such was the case while reading the prophetic book of Daniel, Chapter 3.  There is so much in this mighty book that is difficult to comprehend, and each time I read it, I pray for more understanding.  
     I’m sure you recognize this passage as the beginning of the saga of Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace.  It is a well-known story if you’ve grown up in the church, and is usually presented as displaying the courage of these men, who stood firm in their faith and were saved by the supernatural appearance of Jesus Christ in the midst of the furnace, proving that He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  That is an accurate representation, but it’s only part of the story, and I love it when I can share something a little deeper.
     As I studied this familiar story, for the first time I noticed something that was different; something that had escaped me in all the other times I had read this account … At the beginning of the chapter, we find King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon erecting a giant statue, and summoning all the governing agents of his Empire to a celebration of this structure.  As I read this ancient story, something told me there was more to the celebration than I had previously understood.  
     Notice in Chapter 3, verse 5 that when the government officials are all assembled that they are commanded, “at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon (four-stringed harp), dulcimer, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.”  That phrase of listing all the musical instruments is specifically repeated three more times within the next 10 verses.  For the first time, it struck me … What was so important about the music?  And why was it mentioned so many times?
     After a little bit of research, I discovered that some Bible scholars believe that Lucifer was the highest of all angels, and since the angels never cease worshiping God (Revelation 4:8), he may have been the leader of that worship.  Scripture is not definitive; nowhere does it clearly state that Lucifer was in charge of the musical worship in heaven.  But, in reference to Lucifer, Isaiah 14:11 says, ‘Your pomp and magnificence have been brought down to Sheol, Along with the music of your harps [viols]; The maggots [which prey on the dead] are spread out under you [as a bed] And worms are your covering [Babylonian rulers].  This verse is speaking of his fall from heaven, and how all of the glory he had, and the gifts he had fell with him. “The noise of your viols” seems to indicats the stringed instruments he had charge over.
     Then we have Ezekiel 38:13, which says, “You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz, and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx, and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise, and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and your sockets,[translated as timbrels and pipes, or tambourines] was in you. They were prepared on the day that you were created.  Could this be suggesting that Lucifer was, basically, a walking, talking musical instrument?  Could it be possible that Lucifer contained something akin to musical instruments – the tambourine, the flute, and the harp all within the confines of his own body? Since Lucifer is a created being, I guess he could have been created with instruments to provide beautiful music for none other than the glorification of God. And being the most authoritative and superior angel that he was might also have been the angel of music.  All this is speculation, of course.  Scripture is unclear, but this idea has bearing upon the rest of what happens in Chapter 3.  
     I think we can all agree that the fallen angel Lucifer, who becomes satan, the prince of this world, seeks to have humanity follow and worship him rather than the One True God, the Most High God.  And with this understanding, we often see him influencing earthly rulers such as Antiochus Epiphanes, or Hitler, or Stalin.  If we see him as a powerful spiritual influence behind King Nebuchadnezzar, then can you see him moving through Nebuchadnezzar to honor himself?  Can you accept the possibility that this giant statue, which everyone is forced to bow down to and worship, accompanied by this lavish orchestration of music, is satan’s attempt to glorify himself through the commands of a man he has control over?  Wouldn’t this have been the way he would have liked to be worshiped if he had usurped God’s throne in heaven?
      Then consider the rest of the story … in verses 8-12, there is repetition of the command for a great display of musical worship, and those who do not bow down will be “cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace”.  As I read this, I wondered if this wasn’t satan mocking God — or at least imitating Him in reverse.  Instead of those who reject and rebel against YHWH being thrown into “the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (Revelation 21:8), the devil is declaring that those who do not bow down and worship the idol that represents him will die in the midst of a fiery furnace.  It all points to a counterfeit worship and punishment  scenario.  
    But the attempt to use Nebuchadezzar to glorify satan fails.  The God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego protects them in the fiery furnace.  In fact, the three men declare that their God is able to deliver them from the burning fiery furnace, and out of the hand of their enemy.  And that is just what He does, as a fourth figure is seen in the furnace with them; a figure like the Son of God, walking in the midst of the fire, and no one is harmed.  And that is just what our Savior does … meets us in the midst of our struggles and delivers us from the fires of hell! 
     And how does this Chapter end?  Nebuchadnezzar sees that the fire had no power upon the bodies of the men; nor was any hair on their heads singed, and no scent of smoke or fire lingered on them or their clothes.  And what does the mighty King of Babylon declare?  “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, who has sent His Angel and delivered His servants that trusted in Him.  He saw that these faithful men did not yield their faith to any man, and would not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.  King Nebuchadnezzar then decreed that no one could speak a negative word against the God of these faithful Jewish men, because there is no other God that can deliver like this.  
     The end of the story is that Nebuchadnezzar no longer sounds like a man dominated by satan, but a man who has seen the evidence of the One True God.  And that is the power of the Living God… to make His presence and His power and His authority known in the midst of the darkness of this world.  No matter how hard he tries, satan will never topple His Kingdom — on earth or in heaven!

1 Kings 22:19-22

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Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host (army) of heaven standing by Him on His right hand and on His left. The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this, while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ The Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then the Lord said, ‘You are to entice him and also succeed. Go and do so.’

     During our home church’s Bible study on the Book of Acts, we have enjoyed a discussion on the “host of heaven”, and exactly what that means.  It’s important that we come to an understanding of that term since it appears throughout the Bible.  Also, God is often referred to as “the God of hosts”.  So just who or what is “the host”?  
     It is easy to get confused by this term… depending on the context with which it is used in Scripture it can point to either the sun, moon, and stars; or to angelic beings.  The important thing to understand is that they are all creations of God.  And there is a connection between the two groups … through the influence of satan, and throughout the history of mankind, human beings have turned from worshipping the Most High God to worshipping gods (fallen angels) represented by the heavenly bodies and constellations.  These “small g” gods are very real, and we see them referenced throughout ancient history … Ra was the ancient sun god of Egypt; ancient Arabia worshipped a moon god; Rompha was the star god, or god of Saturn, referred to by Stephen.  
     And we need to clearly understand that these were created angelic beings who were led astray by satan to believe, that as gods, their own power was equal to that of “The Most High”.  Take a fresh look at Psalm 82, and you will see this dynamic.  God calls a meeting of His divine council.  The Bible very plainly states, “God has taken His place in the divine council, in the midst of the gods he holds judgment”.  He is doing the same thing here in 1 Kings … the gods (heavenly host) are before Him, and He is working with them to bring forth His judgment upon Ahab.
     First, a little backstory:  The kings of Israel (Ahab) and Judah (Jehoshaphat) decide to join forces in their battle against Syria at Ramoth-gilead.  But King Jehoshaphat wished to appeal to the prophets of YHWH to make sure it was the will of God.  So King Ahab called forth his 400 loyal prophets, who pronounced that their king would be favored with victory. (A little note on Ahab… Remember, the Bible says, “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him”.  He was the most evil king of all the kings of Israel).  So naturally, the prophets told him only what he wanted to hear.  
     King Jehoshaphat must have recognized the bias, and asked if there was not one more prophet they could hear from.  Ahab reluctantly mentions the prophet Micaiah, whom he hates, because the prophet spoke the Lord’s truth, which was often against Ahab.  The verses I selected for today’s post are the prophecy of Micaiah.  So, what is the significance of this prophecy in terms of the host of heaven?
     Micaiah clearly states the he has been given a vision — or perhaps he actually was given a glimpse into the heavenly court — and he has seen the Lord sitting on His throne, with the heavenly host arrayed before Him; some on the right, and some on the left.  It is important that we note that the right hand of God is the favored spot.  In the ancient world, the kings always put the favored ones at their right hand;  Jesus is seated at the right hand of the  Father, and we are all with Him.  The “right hand of God” was that which overcame Israel’s enemies, as exemplified in Exodus 15:6, Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power; your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
     Since Micaiah sees the heavenly host on both sides of the Lord, this may indicate that God spoke to the combined host of heaven, both faithful and fallen angelic beings.  God then asks this assembled group, Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth Gilead? God wanted to bring judgment against Ahab, so He asked this group of the host of heaven for a volunteer to lead Ahab into battle.
     And God gets an answer to His question …  I will entice him.  Apparently, one of the fallen angels volunteered to go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all 400 of Ahab’s compromising prophets. Since Ahab wanted to be deceived, God would give him what He wanted, using a willing fallen angel who worked through willing unfaithful prophets.
     Can you see how satan works?  To entice; to attract or tempt with an offer of pleasure or advantage?  And can you also see that God knows exactly how our enemy works, and is willing to exploit that sin for His own glory?  “What is meant for evil, God uses for [His] good” is an apt description of what we see happening here.  In fact, God gives explicit instructions:  You are to entice him and also succeed. Go and do so.
     I realize that this idea that there are other gods besides YHWH (albeit, “small g” gods), may be a foreign concept to you.  But it is my opinion that the Western Church, down through the centuries, has been misguided about what “The One True God”, or “The Most High God” means.  God never says there are no other gods; after all, He created them!  He only says they are “false” gods.  Take a look at Deuteronomy, Chapter 32.  In verses 7-9, God tells us that, as The Most High God, He divided mankind up into different territories with borders (most likely at the Tower of Babel), and these fixed number of people were according to the number of the sons of God.  
     The first mention of the sons of God is in Genesis 6:1-4, and it refers to the [fallen] angels who came to earth to mate with earthly women.  I do not subscribe to the concept that these are human beings — either here, in Genesis, or in Deuteronomy.  So what God is telling us in Deuteronomy is that “He fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God [or His created angelic beings]”.  But He then says, “But the Lord’s portion is His people; that Jacob [or Israel] is His allotted heritage”.  In other words, He’s saying, “you angelic beings [that I have created] have been given different nations as your inheritance, but I’m taking Israel; she’s mine”. 
     Now, look just a few verses later, at 32:16-17.  But what did God’s favored nation do?  The Bible says, they stirred Him to jealousy with strange gods; they sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known; to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers never dreaded.  By now it should be clear that other “gods” exist!  But the Bible is all about the relationship of the The Most High God; the one with a capital G, and His relationship with the people He claimed as His own.  All the other gods were created by Him, and meant to be subject to Him.  But one, who fancied himself greatest among the “little g” gods coveted the title and power, and grew to think that he could be equal to the One who created him… and he convinced one-third of the other gods to follow him.  
     The idea of other gods and a heavenly host that consists of holy, as well as evil, angelic beings may be a new concept to you.  And  your head may be spinning about now.  But please do not dismiss it.  Read it within the context of the verses I have shown you, and I think you will find your view of God expanding; and you will start to see the evil in the world, and the bondage in our lives from a whole new perspective.   And in Psalm 82, you will see the God of all creation dressing down those He created for not tending to the peoples they were given jurisdiction over, as He hands down His judgment.  And what is the final statement in this amazing Psalm?  Arise, O God, judge the earth; for You shall inherit all the nations!  YHWH may have claimed Israel for Himself, but in the end, He, and He alone, will come into possession of all the peoples of the earth!  Amen to that!
     
     
     
     
      

Acts 13

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     As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul 
for the work I have called them to.”


     This particular passage in the Bible has struck close to home.  It was pointed out to me by my very wise husband, who said, “Have you ever thought that we spend too much time ministering to people, rather than to God?”  If you are like me, your first thought was, But God asks us to attend to the needs of others; to love them and to share the message about the sacrifice for all mankind that His Son accomplished on the Cross.  Isn’t that what ministering is, and aren’t we called to do that in the Name of our Lord?
     Of course, the answer to this last question is, yes.  Leading and guiding and meeting the needs of others in love is necessary and part of ministering to people, which is God’s work.  But it is hard to ignore in our selected verse that the Apostles were ministering to the Lord, not to the people.  So why were they doing that, and what does it mean for us?
     It is a rather subtle, yet difficult concept to consider, so I hope I’m able to express my thoughts in a coherent manner.  The primary point I want to make is that there is a difference between ministering to people and ministering to God.  When we minister to people, it involves the efforts of our flesh – we may be ministering to the needs of fellow Christians, laboring to save sinners, or administering the affairs of our church.  We may be saying all the right things and be acting according to Scripture; doing all the right activities.  But there’s a crucial question that must be answered … are our efforts done with a mind toward meeting the needs of others, which is through our flesh? Or are we acting in the Spirit, and truly serving the Lord in our hearts?  Do you see the difference?
     Jeff Goins, with Adventures in Missions wrote, “To ‘minister to the Lord’ is to worship Him alone in all that you do. [It is putting Him first].  So, in essence, any ministry that is directed towards others without first being directed towards God is idolatry.”  That’s a pretty sobering statement!
     To truly understand what it means to “minister to God”, we need to consider the role of the priests under the Old Covenant.  In the Old Testament, only the priests ministered “to God.” The Israelites would bring the animals to the temple, and the priests would help them administer the sacrifice in a way that was pleasing to God.  The priest would enter the “Holy of Holies”, where God would meet him and accept the blood as a pleasing sacrifice for the atonement of sins.
      In the New Testament, at the Cross, Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice for all of humanity. He was both the sacrifice [bringing His own blood] and the priest who presented the offering to God the Father, who accepted it and was eternally pleased. When we acknowledge Him as our Savior, we become heirs with Him and part of the “royal priesthood”.  We are covered by the blood of his ultimate sacrifice, and we are able to enter the “holy of holies” personally, and present ourselves to God the Father.
     So Ministering to the Lord means that before we do any of our activities of ministering to others, we should present ourselves before Him, offering whatever our service might be to Him, first.  This is the first job of any servant of God; to put Him first, doing what pleases Him and honors Him as our primary objective.  That can include worshipping Him, praising Him, prayer, listening to Him … or writing for Him.  When we put Him first before we act in our ministry to others, we can expect to hear from Him.  And, here, it is important to realize that this is where the difference between works of the flesh (ministering to others) and spiritual work (ministering to the Lord) is revealed.  Ministering to men often finds us exerting our own energy, running around, spending time to discuss and debate, negotiating, proposing, approving, and authorizing.  Ministering to the Lord requires waiting quietly and listening for what He will say to us.
      Because the Apostles ministered to the Lord [and fasted] they heard from the Holy Spirit, God’s voice, and received the calling on the lives of Barnabas and Saul.  That can only happen when we minister in the spirit.  Ministering in the flesh serves ourselves and others.  Ministering in the Spirit serves God.
     I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this concept struck close to home.  I have to be honest in revealing that it is my utmost desire that this blog serve Him first.  But I often examine my motives to make sure that is the case.  I sometimes have to ask, “Lord, am I really ministering to You or to the work of this blog?  Lord, is my ministry to this audience or to You?”  Because it must be to Him first!  If it is, then I trust that He will speak to you through my writing.  I can tell you that I am aware when I am not ministering to Him which results in a struggle with my writing — I’m sure you can tell it, too.
     So, I pray that I can follow the example of the Apostles and let go of the fleshly side of this work for the Lord.  I want to let go of all consciousness of who is reading it or how many, and I want it to be a spiritual work; a work that allows me to enter within the presence of my Lord, offering my efforts to Him as a pleasing act of worship and honor.  I want to write each post just to please Him!  And so… I wait … and I listen.  

Revelation 22:12

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Consider this.  I am coming soon.  And my reward is with Me, 
to render to each one according to his work.

     This is a verse that has become somewhat controversial within mainstream Christianity.  It is accepted teaching that our salvation is by God’s grace, alone, and there is nothing we can do — no works — that can earn us eternal life in Heaven.  It is true that Salvation is a gift from God, period, in return for our belief and trust that He sent His Son to die as payment for our sins.  Therefore, this Scripture that, in Jesus’s own words, tells us that we can expect rewards “according to our works”, is often confusing to Christians. 
     So here is what we need to understand … Salvation is the means by which we enter into eternal life.  And while our works here on earth have nothing to do with our entry to heaven, they have everything to do with our rewards once we get there.  
     And before I get to the meat of this observation about our rewards, I don’t want to leave the subject of Salvation until I make this comment … Too many Christians rely on their salvation from eternal damnation as the ultimate goal of their Christian experience.  There is far more Scriptural evidence that it is just the beginning; that what we do in this life for the Kingdom of God on earth — after receiving this unmerited gift from God  — matters to Jesus!  Put in simple terms … Salvation is not the result of our works here on earth, but rewards in Heaven are. Therefore, Salvation and Rewards are not the same, but our Rewards rely on what we do for the Kingdom of God after we have received Salvation.
     I know that there will still be Christians who are uncomfortable with the idea that we should seek rewards, perhaps feeling that this is self-serving and glorifying ourselves rather than Jesus.  Granted, we are told not to practice our righteousness before other people to be seen by them; in other words, we are not to boast of our good deeds for Christ.  But, the Bible makes it very clear that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body [his rewards], whether good or evil”.  Obviously, we want to be commended for our work for God’s kingdom, and that comes in the form of Crowns.  (See this post and this post for descriptions of what those crowns are, and why they are awarded).  
    Before I continue, I feel I must address another concept that I believe is not supported by Scripture, and that is the idea that all saints will experience Heaven equally.  True, everyone will receive the best gift of all [eternal life] in equal measure.  But Jesus talks a lot about those who will receive their reward “in full”, or those whose reward will be “greater”; indicating degrees of reward — which has nothing to do with their salvation.  He also says that those who will be first (greatest) will be last (the least), and vice versa — all pointing to rankings, or levels; pointing to something being given in recognition of one’s service, effort, or achievement.
    And there is even Scripture that points to the possibility of losing “a portion” of your reward.  In fact, the Apostle John warns, “Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward”, indicating that it is possible to receive less than the maximum reward; or to lose a portion of your reward.  And Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Talents that we will also earn greater responsibilities as the result of our efforts here on earth (“I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master”).   In this story, each servant is entrusted with a certain number of talents, each according to his ability. In the end, each is rewarded by the master on the basis of how he has invested the talents. In the same way, each of us will be rewarded on the basis of how we used the gift of salvation to advance the kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.  So, it appears God enjoys rewarding His Children with increased and valuable roles of responsibility as a reward for our faithfulness as servants in this life.
      So, in conclusion, all who trust in Jesus as their Savior will spend eternity in Heaven with Him.  We will experience the joy of His presence and for some that is enough reward.  But I can’t help but discern that as we stand before His judgment seat in Heaven, we will want Him to say to us, those He left in charge to take possession of and care for His Kingdom on earth, “Well done, good and faithful Servant.  You have been faithful and trustworthy over a little [of what I left you]; I will put you in charge of many things; share in the joy of your master.”  I want to rule and reign with Him, and I don’t want to have any regrets!  
     Although most Christians probably feel they are honoring the Lord in their lives, each of us will probably look back on our earthly lives and wish we had done more to advance the Kingdom of God. We will simply realize that we could have done more for Him… not to glorify ourselves with more rewards than others, but because we will realize that the rewards He gives us amount to just a fraction of what could have been done in His Name.  He is coming soon, as His Word proclaims … His reward for each of us is with Him.  He has told us that when He returns He “will reap [the harvest] where He did not sow and gather where He did not scatter seed.”  The sowing and scattering is our job!  What kind of harvest will He gather from the work we have done for His kingdom?  Will He even notice?  I pray that my life has given abundant glory to Jesus; that the harvest of my efforts is pleasing to Him.  And I will happily receive whatever rewards He deems fitting! 
     
     
      



Christianity Is a 2-Step Process: Salvation To Freedom

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     I have seen profound evidence of this truth in the past week.  The recognition that spiritual warfare is not only real, but necessary, has set my husband and myself on a path that has ultimately estranged us from the traditional Church, yet given us the opportunity to testify to the fullness of our Christian faith.
     Christians don’t like that word “process” because it means “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end”.  You see, it is my opinion that we’ve kind of gotten the purpose and method of Christianity out of order and all mixed up.  I’m not too sure we haven’t lost some of what Jesus intended for us, His followers, to do until His return.
     When the Apostles met the resurrected Jesus in Galilee and they received their/our commission, what did Jesus tell them to do?  He told them in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  There is a lot going on in those instructions, but somehow, the Church has reduced it all to a message about salvation.  
     The primary message that I think people in our culture receive … and people in the pews … is how important it is that we are SAVED.  They perceive that the central point of the Good News of Jesus is that through God’s grace, we have received the gift of salvation, which translates into eternal life; we have escaped the wrath of God because Jesus paid the debt for our sins by experiencing the death that is due all of us.  GRACE and SALVATION become the focal point of what Jesus is all about, and we miss the broader implications of His ministry and purpose.  To them, Salvation is the ultimate goal … “got it … done!”
     Let me be clear, I am by no means denying the significance of Salvation!  It is a desired result of a very real relationship with the Son of God.  But it is just one component of that relationship, and we do a disservice, as His disciples, to concentrate on that message alone.  We have forgotten just how extraordinary it was when, at the beginning of His public ministry, He stood up in the synagogue, and when reading from the ancient scrolls, chose to read Isaiah 61:1-2:  “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed and commissioned me to bring good news to the humble and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up [the wounds of] the brokenhearted, To proclaim release [from confinement and condemnation] to the [physical and spiritual] captives and freedom to prisoners;
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord…”
     In effect, Jesus is stating His job assignment, and it all leads to Freedom — the binding of wounds; the release from confinement and condemnation; freedom to the prisoners of sin and the physical and spiritual captives [of the devil].  That is what He has been sent to do, and receiving Salvation (the “good news” He states at the beginning) is just the beginning of the process that will lead to Freedom in this world, and Eternal Life in the next.
     The Church has been good about teaching the beginning of the process — the Salvation message.  But if we only receive Salvation and don’t continue on to Freedom, then we have our faith in Jesus (that He died for our sins, was buried and resurrected to bear witness to God’s victory over Death, and to bear witness to the same Power that will save us from eternal Hell), but we have only gone half-way towards benefitting from the rest of Jesus’s assignment.
     Knowing and recognizing that He died for our sins does not, by itself, release us from the bondage and condemnation of the Enemy.  Our physical and spiritual captivity is not automatically voided by the Prince of this world.  Did you know that the Early Church believed that everyone who received Salvation (and was converted out of this world) was still full of demons?  They believed that a person could receive Jesus as their Savior from eternal damnation, but still have unclean spirits that affected their lives.  You see, they were well aware of the symptoms of demonization, and there were people within the Church who had either witnessed Jesus “setting the captives free”, or had seen His Apostles and disciples continuing His work in binding up the spiritual wounds caused by demonic attacks.
     Sadly, today we have lost that sense of recognition.  We have all kinds of titles we put on demonic oppression …. mental illness; schizophrenia; personality disorders, bipolarism, and on and on.  In God’s Truth, and in reality, these conditions are caused by spiritual attacks by the Enemy.  Granted, these are extreme cases of demonic oppression, but this realization does not dismiss that Christians, who are wonderfully Saved, are still in bondage to demonic persuasions.
     Over the past week, my husband and I have ministered to people who love the Lord without question, who have accepted Him as their Savior and believe in the redemptive work He did on the Cross.  Yet, they are plagued with Guilt and Shame and Doubt and Unworthiness and Pain and Anger … just to name a few.  These are people who know that the Bible tells us that God forgives and forgets our sins.  They know the Scriptures that tell us “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more”; ” I will put My laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’ Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more”; and “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us”. 
      They know these Scriptures and they hear them time and time again, but they don’t really believe it.  That’s because they are still in bondage to the lies of the devil, who whispers in their minds that they don’t deserve the forgiveness; that they are unworthy of Jesus’s sacrifice; that they are still dirty and unclean in His eyes.
     But here’s what they miss, and what I believe the Church fails to hammer home in their teaching and preaching:  It is the very important message contained in Hebrews 10:14 …  For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.  I think most Christians can get the concept that when they receive Salvation, Jesus’s forgiveness is a done deal (even if they don’t quite believe it for themselves).  But they have not been taught that this begins the process toward being the person that Jesus created them to be; the Scripture says they “are being sanctified”.  Other translations say they “are being made holy”.  Do you see the verb tense?  It is Present Progressive, indicating an ongoing activity.  It’s right there in the description!  It’s about “Progress”!  First … Salvation, which begins the process; and then taking the steps to make progress towards Freedom!
     Let’s finish by going back to that Early Church belief that converted Christians still had demons.  Why would we think we are any different?  Do we look back on them as backwards and uncivilized, and see ourselves as more enlightened and informed?  Remember, they were a whole lot closer to receiving Jesus’s “Good News” than we are, thousands of years later.  They took to heart his proclamation in that synagogue … that this was the favorable year of the Lord because He was being anointed and commissioned to bind up and heal spiritual and physical wounds; to release people from condemnation; and to free the prisoners that the devil was keeping in captivity.
    And before He left this world, He told those of us who believe in Him that we would do the things He had done, and even greater.  And now we are waking from a long slumber of deception, lack of knowledge, and inexperience to continue that work.
     In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus instructs us to make disciples of all nations, and to “[teach] them to observe all that I commanded you”.  That word “observe”, in the Greek, means to guard or preserve.  But what should we, as the Body of Christ, be guarding and preserving?  The Gospel of Jesus, for sure … that Salvation is available to all that believe in His redemptive work.  But after He is resurrected, and before He ascends into Heaven, He makes it very clear that the Apostles are to wait for the Power of God (which would come in the form of the Holy Spirit).  This is the same Power that the Father had given Him to heal the brokenhearted, cast out demons and set people free from the oppression of satan.  And with that Power they were to continue these same works that He had done, and to teach those who were becoming followers of Jesus that they, too, received that Power at their conversion.  And they were to use it!
    I began this post by saying that I had seen this two-step process of Salvation to Freedom this past week.  People were able to see Jesus in the midst of their sinful lives and to experience His love and forgiveness.  They left that encounter feeling “different; lighter; as if a burden had been lifted”.  But most importantly, they left knowing that Jesus is ever-present and He wants them set free from the prison they’ve been locked in.  And it is a glorious thing to witness!
     It is such a blessing to be involved in Deliverance Ministry … to see the Power of the Holy Spirit speak into people’s lives so they can see the Truth of Jesus’s forgiveness and their path out of the hurts and oppression they have been suffering under.  When Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the Truth shall set you free”, I’m here to give witness that He means it!  I have assisted Jesus and the Holy Spirit to help people see Him in the midst of the hardest times in their lives; times that satan used to give them a spirit of brokenness, or anger, or shame.  And, the Holy Spirit shows them that Jesus was actually there with them through that painful experience, and they hear His truth, instead of satan’s lie … that He loves them; He has always loved them; He forgives them when they ask for forgiveness; and He washes them clean with His blood.  It is to the Glory of God that I can assist Jesus in making Himself real to those who love Him!  Now it is my prayer that other Christians will recognize that their Salvation is just the starting point; that they will begin the process towards Freedom, letting Jesus and the Holy Spirit work in them to release them from the spiritual bondage that is hindering them from bearing fruit in their lives and for God’s Kingdom.  That’s the second step that Jesus died for!

Psalm 118:5    “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; The Lord answered me and set me free.”
   

Matthew 6:13

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And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the Kingdom and the Power
and the Glory forever. Amen.

   This is one of the most recognizable verses in the Bible… or it should be.  You will recognize it as one of the instructions in what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer”.  It is called that, not because praying is a new concept to the Disciples, and originated by our Lord — after all prayer had been offered among the pagan nations for centuries before the Hebrews were called by the God of Abraham.  But this prayer is distinctively connected to Jesus, because it is the way He recommends we all pray.
     I selected this particular verse of The Lord’s Prayer for two reasons:  1) to suggest a broader understanding of the idea of “temptation” in our lives, and 2) to discuss the inclusion of the Doxology here in Matthew (the concluding phrase, “For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever”) and the absence of it in The Lord’s Prayer in the Book of Luke.
     First things first … what is your understanding of the part of the prayer that asks God to not “bring [or lead] us into temptation, but deliver us from evil”?  Do you think that God tempts us in order to evaluate our faithfulness?  Or do you believe that these temptations are brought upon our lives [by God] as times of strong testings, to discipline us and purge us of our fleshly pride; that we might be brought low in our own weakness, so that we can rise in newfound dependence on, reliance on, and need for God?  
     Let’s get a Scriptural truth about whether God tempts man or not … James 1:13 says, No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone.  So we can dispel any idea that God tempts man.  Now, to the second viewpoint … would God work with evil, allowing us to be tested and brought to our knees in order to ultimately glorify Himself?  Notice that if you believe this concept, then you must read Matthew 6:13 in the active tense … God is bringing us into the time of temptation; He is cooperating with evil to test us.  If that were so, then it would seem to indicate that God thinks the tests and trials sent by the devil are good for us, or meant to help us in some way get closer to Him.
     But I’d like to suggest another way to look at this verse… actually, I want to let you read the Greek translation of this verse:  And do not lead us into the place of testing where a solicitation to do evil would tempt us to sin, but deliver us from the Pernicious [wicked, corruptive] One.  Can you see how the translation from Greek to English loses a vital component of this verse?  
     The tempting is being done by the Enemy, and they come in the form of attacks meant to destroy us and our relationship with God.  To me, this verse is asking for protection against being subjected to those places and times of attack by the devil; and there is a plea to be delivered (or rescued) from those attacks.  It is a prayer for spiritual warfare to take place!  Protect me … Rescue me.  Be my Fortress and my Deliverer!  
     Now, to attempt to explain the presence, or not, of the Doxology as included here in Matthew 13. I will try to be as succinct as possible…  The Lord’s Prayer appears both here in Matthew 13 and in Luke 11.   I have done a lot of research, and read several theories based on early Church manuscripts and the writings of Early Church Fathers, as well as theories of translation errors and omissions down through the centuries.  The explanation that made the most sense to me, regarding the inclusion of the Doxology in Matthew and its exclusion in Luke, is the one that justified the differences in the two versions by the context in which Jesus expressed this prayer.  Here is the explanation as presented:
     In Luke 11 we read that our Lord was in prayer; and when he had ceased, his disciples asked for instructions on how to pray.  Whereas the prayer in Luke is given in response to the disciples’ request for instruction, the prayer in Matthew 13 is given in the context of the Sermon on the Mount.  The Sermon on the Mount included the following three teachings (among others): 1) the kingdom of heaven belongs to God  2) the folly of self-glorification; and 3) the laying up of treasures in heaven. The Doxology is included in Matthew’s version of the prayer because the Doxology relates to these teachings.
     Luke had referred to the “Kingdom of God” 12 times before the introduction of the Lord’s Prayer in Chapter 11, so that by the time we get to the prayer it has already been established that the kingdom belongs to God.  Before the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew, our Lord only refers to the kingdom as “the kingdom of heaven“, and for a total of 7 times.  In this context where the connection between the “kingdom” and “God” has not been made yet, it is more necessary than in the context of Luke 11 to declare that the kingdom belongs to God, our Father which art in heaven. So, here in Matthew, Jesus is making sure that all those who are listening to his Sermon on the Mount get it … that the kingdom in heaven He’s been talking about belongs to God (Yours is the Kingdom).  Jesus also wants to make it perfectly clear that the power they had witnessed of Him healing “those suffering with various diseases and pains, those under the power of demons, and epileptics, paralytics (Matthew 4:24) … came from God (Yours is the Power), not as a result of His own power as a manThen He goes on to make sure they know that the glory that derives from the Beatitudes also belongs to God (Yours is the Glory) — it’s not about us, it’s about Him!
     In summary, the inclusion of the Doxology in Matthew — and its exclusion in Luke — is made obvious when considered in context of the individual circumstances.  And besides, as one who believes that Scripture is divinely inspired — in spite of the fallibility of men — then I have no problem accepting both the longer and shorter versions of this prayer as spoken by my Lord. 
     I hope you can see the richness of Scripture, and the depth to which we can go to seek out a greater understanding of what Jesus was teaching us.  I am never bored with the Bible, and have learned to never take a particular verse, or word for that matter, for granted.  My love for the Word, which, in its entirety, is an expression of my Lord, grows daily.  He continues to astound and amaze me!
     

Acts 5:3-4

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But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart
to lie to the Holy Spirit … Why is it that you have conceived
this act [of hypocrisy and deceit] in your heart?

     Most likely, you are familiar with the story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, in the Book of Acts. This post will complete my discourse on how important the state of our heart is in our salvation journey.  I hope to show you how our thoughts can be infected by the Enemy, pass through the filter (or gateway) of our hearts, and ultimately affect our spirits. (If you have not read the previous post, I think it will help you to see the Biblical support of this hypothesis).  And I want you to notice how many times the topic of “our heart” is mentioned in this concept and in Scripture.
     First, let’s take a look at the backdrop of the story … We have millions of Jews in Jerusalem.  They originally arrived in celebration of the Spring Feasts; and the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth had taken place during these Feasts of the Lord.  So, there would have been some buzz going on among the multitudes about the rumors that this resurrected Jesus had been seen by 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6).  Then came the Feast of Pentecost, on which the nation of Israel, for over 1300 years, had celebrated the giving of the Law (Torah) to Moses.  On that very day, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to write His Law (commandments) on the tablets of our heart.  
     This was the event for which Jesus had told the Apostles to go to Jerusalem and wait … He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Of which,” He said, “you have heard Me speak.  For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized and empowered and united with the Holy Spirit, not long from now” (Acts 1:4-5).  So you can imagine the uproar and enthusiasm among the crowds when those tongues of fire came down upon the Apostles.  And how I wish I could have heard the supernatural sermon that Peter preached; one in which the Amplified version of the Bible says “cut to the heart” of those who heard it.  Peter shared that the promise of the Holy Spirit was extended to them, too, if they would repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.  “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” was a powerful incentive to answer this invitation.  
     Of course the ruling class of the Jews were confounded by this event and by the response of the people.  Here, they thought they were done with the rabble-rouser Jesus, and then His disciples not only begin healing in His Name, but they are stirring up the people again … will the influence of this man, Jesus, never end?  After being arrested, questioned about the miracle of healing the man who had been lame for 40 years, and then released, the new followers of the teachings of Jesus were once again moved by Peter, and thanked God in a powerful prayer that resulted in them being of one heart and soul, and full of boldness and courage for their new faith.
     They were so moved by the presence of God through the Holy Spirit, that they were willing to help support those Jews who were “staying over” after Pentecost in order to hear and learn more about the Gospel Message.  So the Bible tells us that people began selling land and property as the needs of the people were identified.  One such man, Barnabas, received particular accolades, as he laid the proceeds from the sale of his land at the apostles feet — a humble and generous act.
     Now, the very next thing the Bible tells us happens at the beginning of Chapter 5.  We read that a man named Ananias, and his wife, Sapphira, sell a piece of their property, but rather than giving the full proceeds, they decide to hold back a little for themselves — and we need to understand that there is nothing wrong with that.  The problem is that with his wife’s full knowledge and complicity he lied about keeping back some of the money.  Clearly, both husband and wife were partners in the deception. They both wanted the image of great generosity (like Barnabas), without actually being remarkably generous.
     But Peter confronts Ananias about his lie.  Once again, God apparently gave Peter supernatural knowledge of what Ananias had done, through the spiritual gift called the word of knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8).  Peter asks, Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?  Peter did not accuse Ananias of lying to the church or to the apostles, but to the Holy Spirit Himself.  Peter then asks Ananias, Why have YOU conceived this thing in your heart?  Peter acknowledged that Satan had filled the heart of Ananias, yet Peter still needed to ask why Ananias, himself, had conceived this thing in his heart. 
     Various versions of the Bible have Peter asking why Ananias “contrived” or “planned” this thing in his heart.  Are you beginning to see the importance that our heart plays in deciding who we will follow in this world?  Satan can influence the life of a believer, even a spirit-filled believer like Ananais, but he can’t do your sinning for you.  He can plant the thought in your mind (which is a powerful component of your soul, which remember is made up of your mind, emotions, and will).  If your spirit is home to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, then the condition of your heart determines whether you listen to your mind or your spirit.  Ananias had a decision to make and his heart ruled in favor of his mind, rather than the spirit within him.  And the consequences were dire — He dropped dead in an instant!
     Remember that the parable of the Sower is about the condition of the ground in which the seed is sown.  The ground represents our hearts, and the seed is the Word of God.  Satan tries to mix rocks and thorns among the good soil, to stifle the growth of the seed.  That’s exactly what he did in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira.  Ananias had been saved after Peter’s supernatural preaching and the Word had been sown in his heart, but Peter correctly pronounces that Satan filled Ananias’s heart with Pride, and Ananias did not root that out and, instead, embraced the Pride and decided to lie (of his own free will; another part of his soul) – not only publicly to the apostles and the people, but more importantly to the Holy Spirit within him, who knew the Truth.  
     So here you have the complete picture … THE SOUL  — the mind which can become corrupted by the lies of Satan (You, Ananias, can receive the same praise as Barnabas, just don’t admit to keeping back part of it for yourself), along with our emotions (I want to feel the glow of praise from the Apostles) and our free will (I can keep part of the profit and reap the honors)  — coming into conflict with THE SPIRIT  (which if you are Saved, is full of truth and grace).  This conflict takes place in the heart, where both the soul and spirit battle for our allegiance.  
     That is why it is so imperative that we recognize what it means to “take Scripture to heart”.  I think 2 Corinthians 10:5 explains it best:  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.  The arguments and lofty opinions are Satan’s lies that come into our minds as thoughts and reasons why we shouldn’t listen to the Spirit’s voice, which ministers to us and gives us “the knowledge of God”.  And can you see how important it is to keep your heart clean and pure; cleansed of any pride or doubt and unbelief?  If the heart is the filter between our flesh (the soul) and our God-filled spirits, then I want to stack the deck in favor of the Holy Spirit.  If my heart is the seat of determination for who I will follow, then I need to guard it and protect it from everything other than God.  
     After all, isn’t God seeking men and women after His own heart?  He wants our hearts to be like HIS!  Sadly, I am far from that saintly goal.  But, hopefully, this little study has been able to help you pay more attention to the state of your own heart.  I now see how important it is to God, and how easily the Enemy can infiltrate my thoughts and emotions, causing me to poison my heart and drown out the Spirit.  We all need to pay attention to the lesson of Ananias and Sapphira, which clearly shows us what can happen when our hearts become deceitful.

John 16:33

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I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. 
In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; 
I have overcome the world.

     The world is fast falling into lawlessness.  Just in the past few weeks, the incidents of violence around the globe certainly have all of us on edge.  We sense that evil has influenced the hearts of men and these are dangerous times in which we live.
     I wonder how many Christians are unsettled about these events, but think evil will never touch them.  And how many are unaware that their Bible tells them to expect such chaos and bloodshed.  Of course, the Bible also tells us in Psalm 27 that the Lord is the protector and defender of our lives; and if you read the Good News Translation, “God protects me from all danger.  I will never be afraid.”
     But if we are honest with ourselves, we are afraid.  And we know it’s not that simple.  Good people — faithful people who trust Jesus as their Savior — are victims of evil and violence every day.   And careful inspection of today’s verse has Jesus telling us, Himself, that in this world, we will have tribulation. 
     It is interesting to note that these words from our Lord appear to be the last advice He gave to His disciples before going to the Cross.  Therefore, they should have great significance to us.   It is important to discern that, even as Jesus knew that Judas was meeting to betray Him — He knew the humiliation, torture, and execution that awaited Him — He was able to offer peace to His disciples … because He had peace.
     Also, note that Jesus did not promise peace, but He offered it. He said, “you may have peace. ” A person can follow Jesus, yet deny themselves that peace.  How do you get that Peace?  It’s only available by faith in Jesus.  
     Notice, however, that He promises tribulationIn the world, you WILL have tribulation.  Peace is offered to us, but tribulation is promised!  So how are we to handle that information?  As Christians, we must not get caught up in the false hope that we will live trouble-free lives.  That leaves us totally defenseless when the devil assigns a spiritual force of wickedness to our life.  And it renders us as deniers of demonic oppression in a Christian’s life, and totally unprepared to fight the spiritual battles that will be ours.   Of this, I can assure you:  if we belong to God, times of calmness and serenity will be disrupted by seasons of struggle, because if we are bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God, there will always be new territory to conquer for Him.
     To uplift us, Jesus tells us to “take heart” or “be of good cheer” because He has overcome the world.  I wish to share with you commentary about this verse by Bible scholar Leon Morris:  “This statement, spoken as it is in the shadow of the cross, is audacious … He goes to the cross not in fear or in gloom, but as a conqueror. ” 
     But now we come to the reason that we can take heart … Jesus has overcome the world!  It’s very important that we understand what that word “overcome” means.  It is translated in the Greek as nikao, and means “to subdue; conquer; prevail; or get the victory”.  In effect, Jesus is telling us that, “I am warning you that you will have great troubles while you are here on earth, but I don’t want you to give up, and I want you to be encouraged.  I want you to not dread or fear what the world will bring upon you, because you can have the same peace I am experiencing now.  The peace I have now, knowing that I am going to My death, is the same peace that is yours, because the ultimate victory will be Mine.  I am going to conquer Death … and so will you, if you believe in Me.”
     That is the essence of what Jesus is saying in this verse.  But I would like to take it one step further… to get the full picture of what Jesus is trying to communicate here, we must continue reading.  This is the last verse in John, Chapter 16; but in Chapter 17, Jesus shares an intimate conversation with His Father.  The purpose is to let us in on the real purpose of His time on earth, and our subsequent purpose in the Father’s Plan.  
     Jesus lets us in on these important facts:  “While I was with them [the Disciples], I was keeping them in Your [the Father’s] name which You have given Me … They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth [set them apart for Your purposes, make them holy]; Your word is truth. Just as You commissioned and sent Me into the world, I also have commissioned and sent them (believers) into the world. For their sake I sanctify Myself [to do Your will], so that they also may be sanctified [set apart, dedicated, made holy] in [Your] truth.”
     Here’s what we really need to take away from this entire passage of Scripture:  Yes, Jesus will never leave us, and in fact we are to be at peace during the coming tribulation, knowing that His victory affords us own victory (eternal life).  BUT, we are not to sit here idly and passively, waiting for the Rapture, safe in the knowledge that this life will soon be over and we will join Him in Heaven.  No!  We have a purpose!  Either until He returns, or until the day we die, we are to spend our remaining time on earth fulfilling the commission that we have been given.  It is the same assignment the Father gave Jesus… to tell the world the Truth of God.
     I fear that too many Christians have selective comprehension of John 16:33.  They read the part about peace, thinking they will have it, instead of correctly understanding that they may receive it.  And secondly, they focus on Jesus’s (and our) victory over Death.  They fail to see that we have a commission and a purpose to fulfill in claiming that victory; we need to be committed and devoted and actively in pursuit of accomplishing our goal for God … we need to be as dedicated as Jesus was about winning souls for our Father’s Kingdom!

Ezekiel 38:2-3

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Son of man, set your face against Gog of the land of Magog,
 the chief ruler of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him,
  and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am against you, 
O Gog, chief ruler of Meshech and Tubal.”

     Since, lately, I have been led by the Spirit to focus on the spiritual realm, I thought I would tackle one of the most controversial couple of verses in the Bible.  During this Age in history, many Christians are discerning that we are in what Jesus called “those days”, or “the end”; when “the beginning of sorrows” and “great tribulation” shall befall men on the earth.  We commonly accept these days as “The End Times”.  
     Historians, eschatologists, scholars, and well-intentioned Christians have searched the Bible for years for prophecies from the Lord; Scripture that will give us a clue as to how to recognize when the Judgment of Christ will bring horrific persecution, death, famine, and ultimately the return of our Lord.  Although we are not worry about the time or day, it cannot be denied that Ezekiel, Chapter 38 is often cited as one of the most explicitly prophetic Books in the Bible.  
     If you are the least bit interested in eschatology, I’m sure you’ve heard a variety of explanations for this particular passage.  Here are just a few, which have been well-documented on watchmanbiblestudy.com:
1.  Hashemite Kingdom Theory: The Islamic Nations will come against Israel either by an Iraqi-led, Jordanian led, or Turkish led coalition. The enemy from the north refers to the areas of Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. These Islamic nations make up the lands occupied by Magog, Gomer, Togarmah, Meshech and Tubal.
2.  Caucus Theory: Gog and Magog are the Arab nations in an alliance with the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. This theory leaves out most of Russia, and includes only the southern part.
3.  All Europe theory: Gog and Magog are the sons of Japeth thus the originators of the European races.  Gog and Magog therefore indicates all of Europe. This is not a widely held theory and I could find little support for it.
4.  Russian Theory: The Hebrew word ‘rosh’ in verse 3 is identified with Russia, ‘Tubal’ with Tiblisi or Tobolsk and ‘Meshech’ with Moscow, therefore Gog and Magog refers to Russia. This is one of the most commonly held views and is based on a different interpretation of the Hebrew word Rosh (used as a noun rather than adjective), similarities in the pronunciation of words, and the Greek translation of Rosh referring to a tribe of people found in what is now Russia. (Given Russia’s obvious involvement in giving arms and technology to Iran and Syria, I believe they will be a big player in the attack if not actively involved in it.)
5.  Indo-European Theory:  Gog and Magog include the nations descending from Japheth: Russia, the Caucasus (Turkey), Iraq, and the Islamic republics of Central Asia. The coalition is an alliance of Arab nations, Muslim republics, Georgia, southern Russia and the Black sea area. 
     It’s also possible that you have heard combinations of these different theories, and even heard Russian President Vladimir Putin identified as Gog.  This theory is often proposed because God says in Ezekiel 38:15. And you [Gog] shall come from out of your place in the north parts…”.  However, “the north” or “the north parts” has often been understood to be the heavens, and in this case, the second heaven, where satan and his fallen angels and demons live.  But, for centuries, that hasn’t stopped people from trying to relate specific humans and geographic locations on the earth, when dissecting Ezekiel 38.  But in taking counsel from the Holy Spirit in regards to the spiritual war in the heavens, I am beginning to see a different picture.  
     What God and the Holy Spirit are showing me can best be explained by what might, at first, appear to be a confusing description of Gog and Magog on Wikipedia:  The first mention of the two names occurs in the Book of Ezekiel, where Gog is the name of an individual and Magog the name of his land; in Genesis, Chapter 10, Magog is a person and no Gog is mentioned; and in Revelation, both Gog and Magog appear together as the hostile nations of the world.
     OK, now I’m going to ask you to follow me and connect the dots; try to consider this possible interpretation… Let’s start with Genesis, Chapter 10, in which Magog is listed as a son of Japheth, who, himself, was a son of Noah.  Genesis 10:5 tells us that from these men, “the nations were separated and spread into their lands, every one according to his own language, according to their constituent groups (families), and into their nations”…  so the fact that Magog is usually understood to be a nation or country makes sense; having been named for the descendant of Noah who was given that land.  Just think of Washington, D.C. named for George Washington, or America, named for the explorer Amerigo Vespucci.  Naming a land after a specific person makes sense to me.
     But then who is this Gog that our God is prophesying against?  In Ezekiel 38:3, he is called “the chief ruler of Meschech and Tubal”.  In other versions of the Bible, this verse reads “O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal”.  Before we try to identify Gog, let’s clear up the discrepancy in the use (or lack of) the word Rosh in that verse.  Some versions of the Bible translate the Hebrew word ‘rosh’ in verse 3 as a noun referring to a place in Russia. The least credible support for this view is that Rosh sounds like the modern-day name Russia and Meshech sounds like Moscow. In this translation they treat rosh as a proper name. Other versions of the Bible translate ‘rosh’ as an adjective, a disjunctive form of grammar, that indicates a pause.  So, verse three would read:
“Behold, I am against thee, o Gog, the prince, {pause} chief of Meshech and Tubal”

Rather than:
“Behold, I am against thee, o Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.”

     It is not as important to me to understand where Gog is chief ruler or prince, as it is to know the identity of who Gog is.  I can accept that he rules over the nations of Meshech and Tubal, and I can agree, without any problem, that those nations may comprise parts of modern-day Turkey, southern Russia and Iran.  It is important to know who this Gog is, and why the Lord God is against him.  
     So, now I’m going to finally tell you the understanding that I have come to, after much study and prayer.  I believe that Gog is one of the demonic rulers (or princes) that satan has assigned to particular nations to carry out his evil directives.  Once again, I feel that’s why Paul made such an effort in Ephesians, Chapter 6, to spell out for us that we do not fight against flesh and blood!  (Could he have been telling us to not try to identify flesh and blood men as these enemies?) These rulers and princes are the forces of spiritual wickedness that coordinate the game plan and align demonic forces on the battlefield of each nation.  
     And I do not believe they are constrained by time or place.  Gog has obviously been assigned to govern and administer the nations of Meshech and Tubal at a time when they will be unleashing their armies on Israel.  Since I often find that the Bible expresses overlapping and dual prophecies — a word from the Lord that is specific to an ancient historic event, but that also applies to an End Times scenario.  In this case, the Old Testament prophet Amos says, Thus the Lord showed me, and behold a swarm of locusts were coming, and, behold, one of the young devastating locusts was Gog, the king. 
     Then in the New Testament, in Revelation, Chapter 9, the Apostle John is given a vision of the Fifth trumpet being sounded, the bottomless pit opening, and the power of the locusts descending upon man to torture him.  In verse 11, John says, And [the locusts] had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.  It is well understood in the 21st Century that this king will be the Anti-Christ.  So, it is certainly possible, and it is my opinion, that the “devastating king of the locusts, that the prophet Amos saw is the same king of the locusts that John saw.  “Gog” could just be the designation of his title or position, such as President; and at the End Times he will be known by his proper name, Abaddon.  
     Nonetheless, I think we must consider that Gog is a demonic spiritual king [chief ruler or prince] who isn’t limited in the length of time he lives or functions.  He can rule over many nations at different times; simultaneously or throughout the centuries.  But I think it is clear that he is an agent of the devil; with specific duties to battle against God’s plan of reconciliation.  I believe that when God commanded Ezekiel to set his face against Gog and prophesy against him, the prophet was being instructed to battle in the spiritual realm against this demonic ruler, and to tell him the Lord God was against him and would defeat him.  That was in the Old Testament.  In this New Testament Age, I contend that we can do the same thing … declare to the demonic forces in the spiritual realm, in the Name of Jesus, that God is against them and they are defeated.  
     I’m sure that this may be a new and very difficult concept for you to accept, since it is virtually never discussed in the Church today.  And maybe, you are one of those Christians who doesn’t feel it is necessary to understood Old Testament prophecy.  But the God who spoke to, and instructed, Ezekiel is the same God who wants to speak to us today through His Word … all of His Word!  For me, it is a matter of knowing that His character never changes.  So if God was against the demonic rulers in the spiritual realm in Ezekiel’s time, He is against them today.  And if He asked Ezekiel to set his face against that demonic ruler, I believe he wanted the prophet to take a stand, with God by his side, and announce the defeat of the evil entities.  I believe His command and His desire is for us to do the same. 


Matthew 5:13

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“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

     Today, I would like to explore this oft-quoted phrase from the Bible … “You are the salt of the earth”.  How many times have we heard Christians referred to as “the salt and the light”?  Let’s consider the first part of that description.
     What is the significance of referring to Christ-followers as salt?  What are the functions of salt?  I believe that two functions of salt pertain to our Christian walk … First, as disciples of Christ, we make His Gospel message flavorful to the unsaved; we make it more appealing and palatable, or tasty, by testifying to the grace and mercy of God in our own lives.  Secondly, like salt, Christians prevent the complete spoiling of the earth.  The power of the Holy Spirit within us holds in check the forces of corruption and lawlessness until God’s appointed time.  Our presence makes the difference between God dealing with mankind in grace and mercy, rather in the wrath and judgment the human race deserves.  Both functions are pretty big responsibilities.
     If we are to be the flavor in the earth, that must come from the testifying of the Body of Christ; from our efforts to stand for the Character and Essence of God.  Salt brings out the flavor in our food and heightens the vitality and spirit of a food. So should we, as members of the Body of Christ be constantly re-vitalizing the Church to speak into the corrupt world.  In doing so, we stand as the barrier to the accomplishment of Satan’s supreme ambition, which is to gain dominion over the whole earth. This explains why Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2:3: “the falling away comes first, and the man of sin [Antichrist] is revealed.” The word translated “falling away” is literally apostasy, that is, a departure from the faith.
     As long as the Body of Christ, or the Church, is willing to stand firm and uncompromisingly for God, then we are as “salt of the earth”; able to prevent corruption and hold back that final manifestation of the Antichrist.  And, boy, does satan know this!  That is why he has continuously attacked the character of the Church; undermining its foundation of faith and righteousness.  He knows that once he has achieved this, the barrier to his purposes is removed, and the way is open for him to gain both spiritual and political control over the whole earth.  From where I sit, he has done a pretty good job of accomplishing his goal.  
     Who cannot say that the Church has compromised on God’s statues and precepts?  Look at our culture and the state of men’s souls and the answer is clear.  The Church is falling away from its duties and responsibilities to be the salt of the earth  — we no longer are considered “flavorful” or “tasteful” to our culture, and we certainly have not prevented corruption and lawlessness within the Body of Christ.  So what are the effects of this situation?
     Jesus tells us Himself:  We become “salt that has lost its savor.” He warns us of the fate that awaits such savorless salt: “It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.”  To be “good for nothing” is not what I want to hear from my Savior!  Yet, I cannot deny that the Church has done a poor job of holding back corruption within itself or our nation.  And let us not ignore what is to be done with salt that has lost its ability to add flavor … it is thrown out, or rejected by God!  And then what happens?  It is trampled underfoot by men!
     We must remember that God’s Character never changes.  Just as he used men such as King Nebuchadnezzar as instruments of His judgment upon an unbelieving nation of Judah, so can He use men in the 21st Century to wield His judgment upon an apostate Church or country.  I contend that we may very well be setting ourselves up to be handed over to forces who will be instruments of God’s righteous judgment.
     In 1976, noted Bible teacher Derek Prince wrote this about the importance of being the salt of the earth: Paul clearly presents us two alternatives [to this situation] in Romans 12:21 … “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There are only two choices: either to overcome or to be overcome.  There is no middle ground, no third option for us.  We may use the good that God has put at our disposal to overcome the evil that confronts us.  But if we fail to do this, then that very evil will in turn overcome us.  This message applies with special urgency to those of us who live in lands where we still enjoy liberty to proclaim and to practice our Christian faith.  In many lands today, Christians have lost this liberty.  At the same time, multiplied millions of people in those lands have been systematically indoctrinated to hate and to despise Christianity and all that it stands for.  To such people who have been indoctrinated, there could be no greater satisfaction than to trample under their feet those Christians who are not already under their yoke.”
     He wrote that in 1976 … 40 years ago!  Can you see just how much our salt has lost its taste?  The Church, as a whole, is losing its saltiness, and may very well suffer the judgment of God, who may use those indoctrinated millions for His purpose.  But, as I’ve said so many times before, I believe that God is preserving a remnant in the Body of Christ that is still full of flavor and able to share a taste of God with the world, and has the power to prevent corruption of His Word, while keeping the forces of Antichrist reined in.
     Tune in tomorrow for an inspiring story of one young Christian who meets that description.  She is living out her life as the salt of the earth, and bring the Light of Jesus to the world!

Mark 4:13

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Then He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand and grasp the meaning of all the parables? 

     This last week my husband and I attended a potluck dinner at the local church for a young couple who will be moving from the community to Italy, as the husband fulfills part of his military service.  Although I am not a member of this church, I love so many of the people who are, and recognize them as faithful and obedient Christians.  
     I overheard my husband, who is continually challenging himself and fellow Christians to understand their Bibles at a deeper level, ask a young woman, “Tell me, do you think there is a difference between the Gospel of Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom”?  This young woman loves a good challenge and promised to get back to him after studying the matter.  But that got me to thinking … How many Christians have even considered this question, or better yet, care enough to determine an answer for themselves?  
     Although I believe there is a difference and could give a pretty good apologetics argument for my opinion, I am never satisfied with my level of knowledge. So I decided to dig a little deeper to try to understand these two concepts and found that the Parable of the Sower is at the foundation of understanding the Gospel of the Kingdom.  In fact, the questions Jesus poses in the title of this blog are questions He asked after He taught His disciples this parable, and He makes it pretty clear that if we don’t understand the parable of the Sower, then we will have trouble understanding all the rest of the parables.  Wow! I had never grasped that concept before!  Understanding this teaching is something worth pursuing.
     I want to begin by saying that I spend a lot of time in my Bible, studying for myself, but there are also good teachers in this day that I admire and respect; teachers who are following in the footsteps of teachers down through the centuries:  Origen, Matthew Henry, Dwight Moody, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Billy Graham.  These historical figures are flawed men, and you may not completely agree with their theology, but you cannot deny their passion for the Gospel.  The same is true of men that I admire today:  Justin Faull, Russ Dizdar, Michael Heiser, and Dan Duval.  In fact, it was a podcast of a sermon Duval delivered for his online ministry, The Fire Place Church, that helped me come to a new level of understanding regarding the Parable of the Sower and the Gospel of the Kingdom.
     We are all familiar with this parable … chronologically, it is the 11th of 49 parables that Jesus taught.  It is important to understand the order in which Jesus taught them, and what came before this parable if it, indeed, is the one that understanding all the other parables rests upon.  Parables 1-10  focus on the fact that there’s a new story being told, that it’s not to be hidden, and it serves as a foundation for what’s coming next. These are the parables which involve new cloth, new wine, a lamp on a stand, wise & foolish builders, the moneylender who forgives unequal debts, a lamp on a stand (2nd time), a rich man who builds bigger barns, servants who must remain watchful, wise and foolish servants, and an unfruitful fig tree.  
     The 11th Parable, the one about the Sower of the Seed, teaches us to understand the foundation of what’s coming next … the Kingdom of God.  The parable relates the familiar story of a sower who sowed seed on four types of soil:  the wayside (or the hard road), where it failed to take root and the birds ate it up; on rocks where there was not much soil, although a plant sprang up and was quickly scorched by the sun because the roots had no depth; among thorns, where the seed took root, but the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no fruit; and the good soil, where the plants grew, and increased, and yielded 30, 60, and 100 times what was sown.  
     How many of us have been taught that the primary purpose of this parable is to point out that it was only the good soil where the seed grew and yielded fruit; that this parable is all about the salvation of those people who occupy the good ground and their response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Yes, Jesus goes on to explain that the Sower “sows the word [of God, the good news regarding the way of salvation]”.  But if you re-read the parable, you will notice that all the types of soil but one received the Word and had an initial experience of salvation.  
     Jesus tells us that the seed that fell on the rocks represent those who “receive it (the Word that brings salvation; the Gospel of Jesus Christ) with joy [but accept it only superficially] — but accept it they did! — and they have no real root in themselves, so they endure only for a little while; then, when trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, immediately they [are offended and displeased at being associated with Me and] stumble and fall away”.
     He tells us that the seed that fell on the thorns are “the ones who have heard the word, but the worries and cares of the world [the distractions of this age with its worldly pleasures], and the deceitfulness [and the false security or glamour] of wealth [or fame], and the passionate desires for all the other things creep in and choke out the word, and it becomes unfruitful”. They were still saved, but they fall away and are unfruitful!  Lastly, He tells us that the seed that fell on good soil represents “the ones who hear the word [of God, the good news regarding the way of salvation] and accept it and bear fruit—thirty, sixty, and a hundred times as much [as was sown].” 
     I can just hear all my Baptist friends!  “Only the seed that fell on the good ground represents the truly saved!  The seed on the rocky and thorny ground represents those were were never really saved!”  I will agree to a point … they experienced salvation, but did not keep it.  But stick with me — I do not believe this is the point of the parable.
     We all understand what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is; Gospel means “good news”, and the “good news” of Jesus Christ is that He died for our sins to save us from the hell we deserve.  BUT, is that what He is preaching in this parable?  Jesus hasn’t died yet, so how could He be preaching how His death, burial, and resurrection would lead to eternal life?  No!  When asked to explain the parable of the Sower by the disciples, Jesus said, ““The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you [who have teachable hearts], but those who are outside [the unbelievers, the spiritually blind] get everything in parables…”.  He did not say, “the mystery of the Gospel of Me has been given to you.”
     Can you see that He is trying to tell them (and us!) that the good news is more than the Gospel about Him; it is about the good news of God’s kingdom!  This parable is not only about the salvation experience of hearers of the Word — it’s more than that!  Our salvation experience is just the beginning of our purpose here on earth.  This parable is about understanding the mystery of the kingdom of God — if we have teachable hearts like the disciples!  Jesus wasn’t preaching his death, burial and resurrection with this parable.  He was preaching something else, something bigger than Himself.  He was preaching about the coming of the kingdom of God, the Gospel of the Kingdom.  But what is that? 
     The kingdom of God is the realm in which God exists; it is wherever God is.  And what does a King do?  He governs His subjects and servants.  The Gospel of the Kingdom is the good news of God’s government.  It is the good news that God governs out of His realm, which is now dimensionally separated from the earth, and that He intends to govern the earth through us; to interact with us in order to transform the planet to His will in accordance with the faith and belief of His people.  
     Up to this point, God’s government has been a spiritual government.  But when God became incarnate, in the figure of Jesus, His government was now interacting through a man on earth, and He was taking territory from the Enemy.  That is “the mystery” of how God would now govern the earth, and it was good news for mankind!
     Can you see that the Gospel of the Kingdom goes so much further than the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Please understand — I am not diminishing the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  It is the key to the salvation message by which all men can avoid eternal damnation.  It is the necessary first step!  But let’s not stop mid-sentence!  Let us not diminish the Gospel of the Kingdom which tells us the good news that God can now interface with saved men through dimensions, and can work with us to begin bringing heaven and earth back into alignment!  
     At the heart of the Gospel of the Kingdom is the knowledge that Jesus was the first man to manifest this interface, and then He turned around and gave that ability to us … whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  He is telling us that the Father gave Him authority to help govern the earth (to do God’s will), and now we can, too, because He is going back to the Father and will be personally interceding for us; interfacing through the dimensions with those who believe in Him.  
     Can you see that when we stop at the salvation message of the Gospel of Jesus, we lose out on a bigger revelation?  It is through the revelation of the death and resurrection of Jesus that we gain access to the dimension and realm where God is King.  
     So to bring it full circle, I believe this is what we need to understand about this parable:  Three out of four of the types of ground, or soil, received the seed; they were saved.  But not all experienced the same thing over the long haul.  It had to do with the state of the ground upon which the seed fell.  So what does the ground represent?  Remember, when asked by the disciples what the parable meant, He told them the mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to those who have teachable hearts
     Can you accept that perhaps that the ground represents the condition of our hearts; our belief system and where our faith is anchored?  Can the different types of ground represent our willingness to connect to the realm of God, and to becoming partners with Him to govern the earth.  The Kingdom of God (where God resides and governs from) works with our human hearts (belief system and depth of our faith).  But when the world challenges us through its problems — bills that are due, family issues, health threats — we choose fear instead of faith.  And fear closes that inter-dimensional connection.  
     Once we have received salvation, we are each responsible for our own heart condition.  Jesus is sowing Himself into our hearts.  How hard will we work to grow our roots deep; how hard will we fight to keep our roots from being choked out by the world? How teachable is your heart, and how much do you want to work with God to help govern His earth?  The extent of your ability to do that, as a saved Christian, depends on the condition of your heart — is it hard, rocky, thorny, or good?  Think about it.
      

Hebrews 10:30-31

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 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.”  
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

     I write this post with profound sadness.  More than anything else, I love being in the company of dedicated and committed Christians; men and women who truly love God and His Word, and seek to honor and glorify Him in this fallen world.  That is becoming more and more difficult as the established Church turns toward compromise and concession with the world, instead of standing for God’s Truth and being willing to endure persecution for His sake.
     I have shared with you that my husband and myself are not members of any chartered church, but rather worship and study the Bible as a part of a “home church”.  But we also commune with a small number of members of a local church, and we are united with them in our shared faith and commitment to God; often praying together, sharing Bible studies, and engaging in long discussions and examinations of the Word.  We rely on each other and are brothers and sisters in the Faith, even though we are not joined by church membership.
     Now these beloved Christians are faced with a crisis in their church that threatens to tear it asunder.  Without going into all the details, it has been revealed that certain members in the church are involved in an organization that diminishes the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus Christ.  This organization is a secret society that presents itself as a doer of charitable causes, but at the heart of it are secret oaths and worship of a universal, ecumenical deity.  If you call yourself a Christian, this is in direct conflict with your faith.
     And this shows the devious design of the Enemy.  What better way to infiltrate and influence the Church than to deceive self-avowed Christians into believing they are still serving God, while also serving in an organization that allows any god or “supreme being” to be equal to Jesus?  Remember, our Lord told us, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  The Enemy has now subtly and calculatedly wormed his way into the church through these members, and no one is the wiser.  The question then becomes, “What will true and faithful Christians do once that influence is discovered?”  
     As the writer of Hebrews expresses throughout Chapter 10, it is Jesus Christ, and Him alone, that provides our salvation through His sacrifice.  When Christians, through their own fleshly pride, are willing to compromise on this issue, and with a determined will and selfish resolution, despise and reject Christ as the only Savior — or allow that influence from another member to remain in their Church — then I have a problem with being associated with them.  That is why the established Church is in such decline today, and I am in fervent prayer for my faithful friends.
     Too many times, the Church has turned a blind eye towards apostasy and abandoned God’s principles and commandments in order to find favor in the world.  How have we fallen so far, that to suffer the slings and arrows of a sinful world is too much to bear for our faith?  How is it, that we would rather renounce the gospel’s teachings in order to ingratiate ourselves with Babylon?  Does the horrific sacrifice of our Lord for the sake of our eternal salvation mean so little to us?
     Throughout the Bible, God has shown us what happens to those He has called when they choose to give in to their rebellious nature, or ignore that of others.  The judgment may be swift or drawn out, but it is always deliberate.  He will not be mocked!  He says it plainly in these two verses in Hebrews, Chapter 10:  Vengeance is mine.  I will repay!  The Lord will judge His people”  And that last sentence should grip our hearts … It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.  God’s anger will be felt by a perverse and unfaithful generation.  It happened to the ancient Israelites over and over.  And it can, and will, happen to us, if we do not repent and turn from our rebellion.
     The Church’s destruction is self-generated, and it is only delayed because God is retraining His hand of judgment.  God’s power to judge should be terrifying to the Christian, yet too many today shrug Him off, relying on His grace and mercy.  But the Bible tells us that His wrath burns hot against the wicked; and that the wicked stand condemned by God’s law which is written on the heart, and they are deserving of hell.  Nothing will save them from eternal punishment except a saving faith in Christ.
     Yet Christians and the Church seem to have forgotten this Truth, and perhaps relegate it to a theological doctrine more attuned to Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.  It is said that his powerful sermon “left people in the pews trembling and weeping”.  Oh, how I wish Christians today could be moved to work out their salvation with such fear and trembling.
     And that brings me back to my faithful Christian brothers and sisters, who I pray will receive strength and courage and wisdom from the Holy Spirit as they attempt to root out unGodly influence within their church.  They will most likely be a small remnant within the body of that church; those who truly understand that compromise is not acceptable to a true Christian, nor to a Righteous God.  We must never take the wrath of our holy and infinite God lightly.  At the same time, we must simultaneously remember and embrace the knowledge of how excellent His love is and how terrible His wrath is; the God whose hand of wrath will destroy the wicked is the same God whose hand of mercy will save the repentant.  I pray that repentance and mercy and salvation will come to this little local church, and they will stand as an example of true Faith and commitment to the Lord.
     
     

Turn Off The TV

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Could you get rid of the television? That includes, of course, Netflix and all of the other television alternatives. I don’t mean cut down. I mean turn it off completely.
Ditching the tv could make you healthier, happier, and improve your relationships.
A little television hurts no one, but did you know that the average American spends more than 34 hours a week watching television? That’s almost five hours a day, every day.  (In Canada, it’s about 3 hours a day). Television shows, Youtube videos, movies – they all add up. Since those numbers include people, like the Amish and Mennonites, who never watch it at all, the true average is certainly much higher.

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For those Mennonite groups that refuse to watch television, the answer is simple. Almost everything shown on television goes against their core beliefs. It really is as simple as that. Plain Mennonites assess technology (and we’ll deal with that in a later past) to see if it fits with their values. Television does not.
Get rid of the TV and be happier and healthier!

Time Suck

When we ditched the television years ago, the first thing I noticed was time. Suddenly I had time to read books, write more and just … do things.  With the average person in North America watching 3-5 hours of television a day, that’s a lot of extra time.

Face Time

No, not Facebook (honestly, that can be just as bad). When you’re vegging out in front of the screen, you are not spending time with the people who mean the most in your life. Sometimes we convince ourselves that watching a movie or show together is ‘quality time’ but it rarely is.
“TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.” – Author Unknown, from New York Times, 1939

Negativity

When you watch television – almost any show out there, including the news – you are programming your brain with negativity. This certainly has an effect. Even after we stopped watching television, the mister enjoyed watching celebrity roasts on Youtube. Eventually, though, we realized that his humour was becoming darker and snarkier as he picked up the attitudes he was watching.

It Makes You Callous

With the celebrity roasts in mind, think about the comedies that you watch. We laugh at mistakes, giggle at those who are different and don’t fit in, feel superior to the stereotypes. Arguing, tension and drama are all a vital part of fiction and non-fiction online. After all, it would be boring, as an adult, to watch conflict-free Timothy Goes to School.

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Expectations Soar

You know that the images you see online, and on the magazine covers, are fake, right? With makeup, lighting and of course Photoshop, they can be made to look … well, better than you. Better than your husband or wife, too. Not only look better, but they behave better, too. At the end of every episode, love and friendship returns and all is well. When our lives don’t work quite the same, depression and other problems can occur.
And these expectations extend outside the home, too. Imagine my surprise when it turned out that Perry Mason was an inaccurate portrayal of lawyers and police detectives are never quite as awesome as Columbo.

“Poor people have big TVs and small libraries; rich people have small TVs and big libraries.” – Brian Tracy

Relationships Suffer

Couples who watch television together are more likely to fight. Considering what it does to you psychologically, is that a surprise? In general, couples who watch a lot of television together are more unhappy all around than couples who do not. A steady diet of television is very bad for your intimate relationships.

Subliminal Messaging

Do you know why television exists? If you thought it was to entertain you, then think again. 
Television exists to sell products. Every bit of it is designed to keep you watching and get you buying.  If you feel inferior to the gorgeous people, you will buy the products that promise to make you beautiful. Or thin. Or active (I mean, McDonalds advertises directly to people who want to see themselves as happy and active). By watching the shows, you are volunteering to be brainwashed. Companies spend trillions of dollars every year to reach you through shows – because they know it works.

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Lower Self-Control

Have you ever tried to turn off one of your favourite shows in the middle? It’s hard. They use so many psychological hooks that it is very difficult to walk away. Our society doesn’t help, since it is assumed that everyone is eagerly watching the latest popular shows. 
Think about this – I know who Jon Snow and Sheldon are and I haven’t watched a television show, of any type, in over six years. People talk about these characters as though they are real people. Based on all the known effects of television, and with what I’ve heard about Game of Thrones, by the way, I would never willingly watch it.
We ditched the television about six years ago, and I honestly can not say that I regret it. What about you? Could you turn off the television – and leave it off? You’ll be healthier, happier and have better relationships, which seems like a wonderful exchange.