JOBS: Preparing for Job Loss…steps to move onward & upward.

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Yes, I am living it right now. I made a decision, and quit a job with the state of Wyoming, moved to Nashville with everything I owned (that I hadn’t sold or gotten rid of) and started from scratch again. Had a job building corporate Dell PCs for two weeks, but after knee surgery 6 months […]

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He Makes Me Lie Down….

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     I can no longer ignore the signs that I have to make some changes… and it is has been difficult to decide exactly where those changes need to be made.  The long and short of it is that my health has begun to suffer from the stress of trying to meet all the obligations I feel that I must do to be effective in my service to the Lord. Please… I am not complaining!  It is a blessing to be given the opportunity to reach people for the Kingdom of God, and I can think of no higher calling upon my life.
     But I am being forced to admit that between writing this blog, the increasing demands for deliverance, the discipling/Bible studies with individuals, our Home Church, and being involved with a committed group of Believers who are dedicated to living out the Great Commission in ALL of its aspects (and changing our community)…. that something’s gotta give.

     I have fought a growing sense of being stretched too thin … and was successful for awhile.  My first assignment from the Lord was this blog, and I have enjoyed hearing from Jesus and the Holy Spirit and then sharing the journey they are taking me on.  Then God brought our Deliverance Ministry to me and Mark, and there is nothing that feeds my spirit more than to see people receive freedom from the Enemy’s bondage.  And that has led to continued discipling throughout each week of those who have been blessedly set free.
     Our Home Church only meets once a month, but these people are so precious to me. When I see how far we have come together in renewing our minds; and the progress that individuals have made in determining their own theology — and then acting on it — both Mark and I are inspired to continue growing with this amazing group of people.  The time spent on preparation [and in fellowship] fills my spirit with hope and joy.
     And now God has called us to a new endeavor; to actually live out the Great Commission: beginning with healing the sick, as Jesus repeatedly modeled for us and commanded us to do in Matthew 28 and Mark 16.  This involves an in-depth weekly study and association with a small core group who seek to be true disciples of our Lord, in the hopes that we can change our community, and then spread the Gospel Message of the Kingdom in ever-widening spheres.
      But I can no longer disregard that all this work for the Lord is taking its toll.  And needless to say, there is a considerable amount of guilt that comes with a decision of what to curtail, and to what extent I must reduce an activity.  And it should go without saying that my time spent meeting the needs of my husband is a priority, along with wanting to help him with his business.  But how do you say “No”, to the Lord?  But then my wise husband pointed out that I am always trying to meet some timeframe or deadline, and I need to ask the Lord what to do.  That’s when I came across the following Scripture: (Mark 6:31) He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a little while”—for there were many [people who were continually] coming and going, and they could not even find time to eat.  (That describes my life more than I want to admit).
     I instantly felt a burden being released … it’s okay to step back and admit that you can’t do it all; that you need a period of rest so that you can still do your best and enjoy it. It doesn’t mean you are failing Him.  Even Jesus needed to dial it back once in awhile so He didn’t burn Himself out. If we pay close attention to the Scriptures, we can see Him going to the wilderness or up on a mountain for some quiet time with the Father and some time away from the turmoil of His life.
     So, it’s okay to admit that, at the moment, I feel pulled in too many directions and my spirit is feeling undernourished.  It does the Kingdom no good if my strength is diminished, or I’m too busy to hear God’s still, quiet voice.  And lately, I’ve been feeling too much like Martha, who was worried and upset about meeting her obligations, that she didn’t take the time [like her sister, Mary] to rest at the feet of Jesus and listen to what He had to say to her.
     I realize that I have been missing those glimpses of Jesus that I used to have [and make time for].  My spirit is hungry to regain those intimate moments of rest with Him.  So I have to intentionally make the time, and like I said … something’s gotta give.  This blog was the first stepping stone in my walk with Jesus, and it is not time to leave this path. BUT, I believe it is time to re-allocate some of the deadlines associated with it to another of the tasks He has assigned to me.  I will still maintain and write for this blog, but it may only be once or twice a week — or whenever the Holy Spirit whispers in my ear.  I simply need to remove the stress that comes with meeting self-determined deadlines.
     And, maybe, Jesus is trying to tell me that I’ve said enough about Deliverance, Discipling, Healing, and advancing the Kingdom… and now I need to put my time and effort into DOING IT.  Then again, wouldn’t it make the devil extremely happy if I just shut up about it all?  I don’t think Jesus wants that, either.  So, for now, I am going to let Him be my True Shepherd… I’m going to let Him make me lie down in green pastures, lead me beside still waters, and restore my soul.
     I know He still has things He will want me to share with you as I continue my life’s journey with Him. But I will let Him name the deadline and follow His lead.  I hope you will continue to check in on this blog, and I hope you will be both surprised and pleased when I have something new to say.  Thank you for remaining loyal, for understanding, and for taking this blessed pilgrimage with me.  We aren’t done, and this relationship isn’t over, by far — when Jesus reveals something new about Himself, or the Holy Spirit whispers a message from Heaven, you’ll be the first to know.  God bless you, and I remain in His Power and Love!

Matthew 11:28    “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”. 

John 15:23

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Greater love has no one than this, 
that someone lay down his life for his friends.

     This weekend the nation will be remembering those who have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so that we, the people of the United States, could continue to live in peace and prosperity. It should be a very sobering day, and one that should be commemorated down through our generations. My own father served in WW II, and I have had the privilege to serve those who have served us through a ministry at one of the Fisher Houses at Fort Sam Houston.  Those who have gone before us [and paid a price] should never be forgotten.  
     I hope that everyone honors Memorial Day for what it really is: a day to remember and commemorate the people and events of our history.  And in context of the Bible, the meaning of the Hebrew word for memorial is actually “to remember.”  And God makes it very clear that He feels memorials serve a valuable purpose: to remind us of all He has done for us. 
      One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Joshua 4:1-24.  The Lord was finally delivering His People into their inheritance, and had appointed Joshua to lead the tribes of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Joshua was given very specific directions … have the priests carry the Ark of the Covenant ahead of the people into the Jordan, and God would stop the flow of the river (which always overflowed its banks during this harvest time).  The priests were to stop on this dry ground, in the midst of the Jordan, while the people of Israel passed to the opposite shore.  
     Then the Lord instructed Joshua to send one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel to where the priests were standing, and to gather a rock from the riverbed. They were to bring them back to where the people were lodging on the west bank.  The purpose for these 12 stones was very important to God: “Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”
     This very visible memorial would be a reminder to all future generations that the Lord of all the earth had delivered them out of the land of Egypt and into the Land that had been promised to their ancestor, Abraham.  The memorial of stones would cause each succeeding generation to ask of their meaning. and then be reminded of all that the Lord of all the earth had done for them.  It would be a lasting reminder and memorial forever of the goodness of God.
     But I love it that Joshua, himself, also erected a memorial in the middle of the Jordan, where the feet of the priests stood in the dry riverbed.  Perhaps he wanted to offer a personal memorial to God, separate from the corporate one that would be erected on the west bank of the Jordan.  But I think there is a much more consequential meaning to Joshua’s actions.  We must take note that once the priests continued with the Ark of the Covenant and set their feet upon dry ground on the opposite bank, the waters of the Jordan were released and this memorial was buried under the raging waters, never to be seen by anyone.  Is there significance to this memorial, as well? 
      Perhaps we can glean some meaning from the waters of the Jordan as being symbolic of judgment, just as the waters of The Flood condemned all corrupted flesh in Genesis 6; and the waters of the Red Sea buried the Egyptians; and Jonah was buried under the waters during his own judgment.  Then there is Hosea 5:6, when God says, “I will pour out my wrath on them like water”.
     If this is interpretation is a possibility, what is the difference between the two memorials?  Why is one established in the Promised Land, and one is buried under the Jordan River?  If water is judgment, then it makes sense to me that the memorial on the west bank is a picture of being saved from the waters of Judgment.  The Ark of the LORD, which typologically points to Christ, stood in the midst of the Jordan, holding back the waters and allowing the stones to be brought up and erected on the shore as a memorial and sign of God’s Deliverance.
     But the other memorial of stones was covered by the Jordan. They cannot be a sign because they cannot be seen.  Those stones are a warning! It was Joshua alone (whose name means YHWH is Salvation) who did the work of setting up the twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan.  It is not only Joshua’s name that points to Jesus, but his actions. Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead.  Those 12 stones are a warning about death and judgment!  If people do not repent and trust in Jesus, they remain in the miry clay of a river— and that river will overflow in judgment at death.
     Those 12 stones represent the unredeemed, who have rejected Jesus and are buried in death by the righteous judgment of God… “and they are there to this day”.  But here is the really sad part… they will never be seen or inquired about. They were quickly forgotten and there would be no evidence of them for the rest of eternity.
    As we celebrate the Memorial Day established by this nation, it is my prayer that we would share our own memories of what the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ has done in our individual lives. Don’t let the unsaved think they are safe on whatever dry ground they are standing upon. Tell them how they can be saved from the waters of judgment.  Tell them how, through the work of Jesus in saving and sanctifying them, they can be a memorial stone of remembrance of God’s goodness and saving grace.  Let this Memorial Day mark a new remembrance of the work of the Lord in our nation. 
     
     

The Power Of Obedience In A Believer’s Life

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      I have been sitting here, just ruminating on all the experiences that have come my way over the last week or two.  And I’m seeing God working in so many ways, taking people in new directions and broadening their understanding of His Word.  It is absolutely exhilarating!
     I am seeing Believers who are willing to walk out their faith in ways that make them uncomfortable.  They are willing to challenge the Church’s “sacred cows of theology” to discover whether they are actually Biblical or not. And if the teachings prove to be false, they are making the decision to let the Holy Spirit guide them into new truths from the Father. And speaking of “new truths”, Christians are actually discovering old truths in a new light.  It’s as if they are seeing the Bible for the first time, and uncovering fundamental facts that have been hidden through centuries of false doctrine.  These are facts and concepts that have never been taught as part of their denominational belief system, and it is awakening their spirits with a hunger for more knowledge of God.

     Believers who have been told (or taught) that signs and wonders, mighty works of God, and miracles are no longer for the Church are searching Scripture to verify that claim.  They are willing to look at the Word to see if the spiritual gifts are for today; or to determine just what is expected of us after they read that Jesus gave us authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the Enemy. The Body of Christ is rediscovering that mankind’s dominion over the earth [which was established in Genesis] has been restored through Jesus’s resurrection and defeat of Death.  People aren’t afraid to ask questions like “Is God really in control of everything”?  Or, “Were Healing and the Prophetic Gifts lost when the Canon closed”?  Or, “Can Christians be demonized”? — and then to search out the answers by actually going to Scripture, instead of relying on someone else’s  opinion!
     I have been blessed to be in the company of people who are willing to take a fresh look at the Great Commission (in Matthew 28 and Mark 16), and to see the exact commands coming from our Lord’s own mouth. Unlike the accepted doctrine of the Church that the Great Commission is to spread the message of salvation through Christ’s death on the cross (and the forgiveness of our sins), Jesus didn’t actually make that message His focal point.  Although that particular theme is correct, that wasn’t what He commanded the Apostles (or us) to do. He said to baptize in His Name, cast out demons, heal the sick, and spread the Gospel of the Kingdom [that these things are to be done “on earth as it is in Heaven”].  We are to be seeing signs like people speaking in tongues, and drinking poison and being unharmed.  We are to do these things, and expect these signs.  Anything less is a product of Unbelief!
     So, I am excited to be involved with people who want to obey the Word of the Lord because they love Him.  It’s really as simple as that.  I have been in the midst of people who believe Jesus when He says He came to set the captives free, and they are willing to co-labor with Him and the Holy Spirit to make that happen. These are people who are dedicating their lives [and livelihood] to spend hours ministering to people’s inner wounds that keep them in bondage to Satan’s schemes and deception.  The things of this world have begun to look dull and useless to them, while the opportunity to participate with Jesus in freeing someone from the Enemy’s clutches is worth more than gold.
     But I have to tell you that it requires obedience to step outside the comfort zone of what the Church has established as “acceptable”.  Obedience is a willful act and it is the fruit of your decision to honor Jesus as your Authority.  Not that I don’t honor the position of Pastor and Teacher and Prophet, or the teachings of Biblical scholars and theologians.  But my Ultimate Authority is Jesus Christ and what His Word tells me. All that Christ did in His life on earth was done according to the Scriptures, and He did it in obedience to His Father who established the Word.  Our lives should mirror that same commitment and obedience.
     And for some reason, Christians are afraid of the word “power” when it is applied to them, but I am here to tell you that there is real power in the life of a Believer who is willing to be obedient to Jesus’s commands and authority.  When you are walking in Obedience, you will find that the floodgates of Heaven open up, and God is able to work through you, demonstrating His Power in the fruit that you bear for His Kingdom.  People are healed — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The spiritual forces and demonic beings of the Dark Side are put into submission under the Name of Jesus. People step into their destinies as Children of God, and prosperity and blessings take root in their lives. Peoples’ minds, bodies, and souls can be literally transformed by our free will decision to obey our Master and Lord!  In effect, our obedience is the catalyst that releases God’s Power into this realm, and pushes back the cloud of evil that blankets this domain.
     It is God’s Power, and His alone — make no mistake — that changes the lives of everyone; both the Saved and the Lost. But there is power in a Believer’s life when you know that you are in obedience to God’s will.  You know you have the capacity or ability to affect someone’s life [for eternity] by being in fellowship with the One True God, and being a willing vessel to carry out His Will. It’s not a power that you can boast about or exhibit for all the world to see.  It is not power as measured by the world’s standards.  It is simply the fruit of the spirit of an obedient servant of the Kingdom. And you will find that you have possession of Divine Power to demolish strongholds, tear down arguments, and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God.  May the Lord grant each of us a heart of obedience in this season of our life.

Psalm 119:13-16   “With my lips I declare all the rules of Your mouth. In the way of Your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts and fix my eyes on Your ways. I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your Word”.

How Do You Understand God?

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     I think we would probably be amazed if we asked a roomful of Christians what their impression of God was like.  Of course, you would need to do it privately, or you wouldn’t get honest answers.  But I imagine that the responses would sound something like this:  “God is my Daddy figure.  I can go to Him with anything”; “God loved me enough to send His Son as a sacrifice for my sins, and I owe Him for that”; “God is in control of everything in my life — if He didn’t cause something bad to happen, He at least allowed it”; and “God is a powerful, yet distant Ruler.  I don’t know if He even knows I exist. I’ve never felt His presence”.
     As you can see, there is quite a wide range of perspectives when it comes to how Christians perceive the God they profess to worship — and this only covers a small fraction of our perception of Him. But I would think that, at the very least, Christians could agree that God is Good, right?  After all, I think we’ve all grown up with the cartoon images of God in a white robe and the devil in a red jumpsuit with horns and pitchfork… with the idea that God represents Good and the Devil is the purveyor of Evil.
     But man’s traditions aside, Scripture tells us in Psalm 100, Give thanks to Him, bless His name, For the Lord is good. And David speaks of God’s goodness and mercy” that will follow him all the days of his life in Psalm 23.  Then there is Titus 3:4-5, which states, But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us.  God’s goodness is well-established in the Bible — throughout both the Old and New Testament; by His acts and those of His Son, Jesus.
     Yet, to paraphrase A.W. Tozer, how we think about God can affect our relationship with Him, and is one of the most important things in our Christian walk.  It is amazing to me how many Christians have a problem with seeing God as Good. And I have met some who are even offended by that statement! Typically, someone they have loved has suffered from cancer, died from a prolonged disease, or were the victim of some tragedy.  And they are simply unable to see God as good, loving, or merciful in that situation.
     Somehow, they have convinced themselves that if God were truly Good, then those events wouldn’t have happened.  They don’t want to come right out and blame God for the adversity in their life, and if you ask them, “Do you think God caused that, or made that happen?”, they are likely to answer with indignation, “Well, I don’t really know … BUT…“. If they can’t go so far as to say God was the source of the bad situation in their life, they will say that He allowed it.  And then the next sentence is usually … “Just like He did with Job”.  But we aren’t in the same situation as Job was. He didn’t have Jesus, who is our Mediator, and who has taught us how to defeat the works of the Enemy.
     Furthermore, God is not the source of evil or bad things… the Devil is.  And he has been the source of evil from the beginning. Those who are confused about God’s goodness will often use the argument that God causes or allows evil/bad things to happen so He can display His mercy.  But think how twisted that is!  Would a Good Father break a child’s arm (or watch His enemy break it) just so He could comfort him (show him mercy) and then use His ability to reset the broken bone so it could be said of Him that He restored His child’s health?
     If I may, I’d like to quote Pastor Bill Johnson: “Today a large part of the Body of Christ believes God either sends sickness, or allows it, to make us better people by building character and teaching us the value of suffering [like Jesus]. But, if God allows sickness, can we still call the devil a thief? After all, if the thief has permission to steal, it is not longer called stealing.  Yet Acts 10:38 tells us God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him… Remember, healing is not just something God does.  It is who He is.  His name is Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals. To deny this, is to deny the nature of God, who never changes”.
     Our takeaway from this statement should be that it is not God’s desire that anyone be sick. We must see that Cancer does not represent Life in the body; it represents Death, which lies in the realm of Satan. Sickness and Disease were not part of God’s design for our bodies when He created us.  Both became a part of man’s experience after Satan tempted Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden.  Child molestation, rape, murder, tragic car accidents — none of these are the will of God for us.  But Satan hates God and hates His creation….us!  He wants to hurt God by hurting God’s creation. So when anyone convinces themselves that God caused or allowed any of these tragedies, they are blaming God for Satan’s evil plans and schemes against us.  John 10:10 should clear up any idea that God is behind the bad things that happen in our lives:  The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. 
     Jesus came as God Incarnate; as an exact representation of God, the Father — to give Life, and give it abundantly. God is Life. Satan is Death and Destruction.  It’s really that simple.  Cancer, Sickness, Child Abuse, Sexual Molestation, Murder, and every evil thing on earth is a manifestation of Satan, and they exist because the Enemy uses them to separate us from God and to steal, kill, and destroy our relationship with Him.
     How we understand God and that relationship has huge stakes for our lives and for this world.  It is imperative that we understand that we were hand-crafted by Jesus with the capability of being conformed into His very likeness. Can we be perfect Goodness, as He was?  Sadly, no, due to our sin nature.  But although that level of Goodness may be difficult for us to comprehend, we still have the ability to experience it personally… but we have to be willing to see His Goodness in every experience of our lives.  God is either Good all the time, or He isn’t.  His character attribute of Immutability demands that we acknowledge that.
     But if we are going to blame Him in any form or fashion for the Cancer, or Sickness, or Abuse that were part of Satan’s plan, we are robbing ourselves of that fullness of God and the abundance of His love for us, and His desire for intimate relationship.  How we understand God is perhaps the most important thing we will ever decide in our lives.  If I had to offer one piece of advice, it would be this: If it is good, it is from God. Jesus, Himself, said in Mark 10:18, Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. So let’s understand this … Anything that brings sorrow or loss or death is from the Devil.  Do not color God’s incomparable and perfect character with Satan’s wickedness and evil.  God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  When your heart can embrace that Truth, the schemes of the Devil to harm your soul will have no effect.

James 1:17    Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of lights [the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens], in whom there is no variation [no rising or setting] or shadow cast by His turning [for He is perfect and never changes]. 

Mark 12:33-34

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“… To love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices”. 
When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

     Let me set the context of this passage up for you… Jesus has made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, setting the stage for His eventual trial and crucifixion.  He has already thrown the money-changers out of His Father’s House, and then the chief priests, scribes, and elders begin questioning His authority to “do these things”.  When they cannot answer His question about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, He refuses to tell them under Whose authority He acts.
     So, now in Mark Chapter 12, we find both the Pharisees and the Herodians (Hellenistic Jews who were more Greek than Hebrew) trying to trap Him in their questions about loyalty to Caesar versus loyalty to God.  We then find the Sadducees trying to ambush Him about the afterlife (in which they don’t even believe).  
     But there’s one scribe who has been watching all the arguing and subterfuge, and realizes that Jesus’s answers are accurate.  And then He asks a question that shows His heart … Which commandment is the most important one of all? He is not interested in maintaining his own power or prestige, or in trying to diminish Jesus’s authority.  It is in his heart to be obedient to the commands of God and he wants to find out the answer that this man, Jesus, has to this important question.
     Jesus gives a two-part answer to the question:  “The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second [part] is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 
     The Scribe recognizes that Jesus has captured the entire substance of the Ten Commandments [given to Moses] in this one answer.  But he goes further… He shows his understanding of Jesus’s Truth by declaring that following God’s command to love Him and his neighbor is worth more to God than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices established by the Law.  And Jesus’s answer to him?  You are not far from the Kingdom of God.
     I want to expound on what I see happening in this extraordinary exchange between Jesus and the Scribe.  What is happening here is what needs to happen in the Body of Christ!  Let me try to explain what I mean… This Scribe has discerned that the laws and rituals of the sacrifices are less than God’s commandments to love Him and others.  And as a good Scribe, he would have been familiar with God’s exhortation in Deuteronomy 10: Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?  (If you love me, you will obey my commands!)
     Furthermore, although this Scribe may not have come to the full realization that Jesus is the Son of God, he has connected the dots that are leading him to the doorstep of the Kingdom of God.  He has correctly discerned the underlying principles of the Ten Commandments. The first five point to God as the One True God, and that we are to love and seek Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  The last five commandments exhort us to love our neighbors as we would wish to be loved.  
      Then the Scribe realized that these two commandments were greater in God’s eyes than any of the rituals or sacrifices that had been instituted when Israel came out of bondage to Egypt.  Those rituals were established to separate the Israelites from 400 years of being immersed in a false god system.  They were meant to be temporary, and God now expected them to have grasped what He wanted to accomplish with them through His covenant.  
     The next dot the Scribe connected was understanding that God desires that we show our love for Him by obeying His commands. What he doesn’t know is the next dot that Jesus is getting ready to put before him.  When Jesus tells him that he is not far from the Kingdom of God, our Lord is hinting that there will be more commands coming; that if the Scribe will be faithful to obey these commands [and thereby show his love for God], his obedience will usher in the Kingdom of God.  
     Those commands are encompassed in the Great Commission … 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. (Matthew 28:19-20) ... Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel [of the Kingdom] to the whole creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:15-18).
     In both of these Scriptures recounting the Great Commission, Jesus begins by giving them a command … GO! Do the things I showed you and commanded you to do, and disciple others to do these same things.  And by now, you should know what those things are:  baptizing in His Name; healing the sick; casting out demons; and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom (which includes salvation).
     But the two big points I want to make are these:  1) When Jesus tells the Scribe that he is not far from the Kingdom, He is making the point that it is correct to show your love for God by obeying His commands. And there will be commands, soon to be given to Believers (in the Great Commission), to show the Love of God (by healing both physical and spiritual issues) for all those who have faith in Jesus.  The Kingdom of God will truly be at hand!  2) Sometimes there are truths in the Bible that have to be discerned by connecting the dots.  There is not always a one sentence verse that reveals an easy-to-memorize revelation of God’s character or commands. 
     Remember, Scripture says it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to search it out (Proverbs 25:2).  The dots that this wise Scribe connected are these:  God commands us to love Him and others … we show our love for Him by following His commands … Jesus commands us (in the Great Commission) to do the things He did (healing, casting out demons, preaching the gospel) … and it brings the Kingdom of God to earth!  
     The question we must all answer is this:  How close am I to the Kingdom of God? 

Romans 1:16

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For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

     In Romans, Chapter 1, Paul is speaking of the exalted power of the Gospel, and when properly understood, I believe it speaks to an even bigger concept than the Church has realized up til now.  We have all been taught that Jesus came to die for our sins, so that we might escape the wrath of God by receiving Him as our Savior.  The benefit of that decision is exchanging a life of sin that leads to Death and the eternal absence of God for a life lived in Jesus’s imputed righteousness and the gift of spending eternity in Heaven with the Father and Son. Does that do a pretty good job of what the Body of Christ is believing?  It is all correct, without a doubt — but there’s so much more!
     For those of us who are willing to hear and see what the Word of God is actually saying, that picture takes on new dimensions and significance.  If you read the first few verses of Romans 1, you see Paul laying out the foundation of our faith … the Gospel of God prophesied [through the prophets] that the Son of God would be born as a descendant of David in the flesh; that Jesus Christ was declared the Son of God [as a result of] power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Holy Spirit; that we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all people for His name’s sake.
     I’m afraid we might have reduced the real magnitude of these verses to a simplified “salvation message”.  And I believe that is borne out by our limited understanding of verse 16, in which we don’t see the big picture of what “the power of God for salvation” really means.  Let me see if I can explain …
     Are we guilty of reading this verse from the standpoint of the Reformation, which preached God’s mercy to bring us into freedom from sin and His wrath?  In other words, are we interpreting this word “salvation” as strictly meaning the escape from eternal damnation in the Day of Judgment, and only seeing the work of the Holy Spirit as He relates to conversion?  
     If you are seeing with newly opened spiritual eyes, I hope that you are discerning salvation in the larger scope of its purposes for the Kingdom.  As I have continually written, it is my opinion that the Church has lost the sense of God’s Power in us, and doesn’t have a very good sense that Jesus came to preach the Good News about the influence of that power [through us] in this dimension called earth.  Furthermore, we don’t have a clear grasp that those Kingdom purposes are about forgiveness, and about having the ability and the authority to communicate with God (as Jesus did) so that we can actually be in communication with God’s enabled power to heal the sick, for instance.  We don’t understand that He desires to use us by releasing His power through us to cast out demons, and even raise people from the dead, if He tells us that is His will.  
     We have not been taught that the Holy Spirit [in us] enables us to see in the spirit, and hear in the spirit so that we can implement our Father’s plans and will — just as Jesus did in His incarnate state.  He showed us that is possible!  And this is the fullest sense of that word SALVATION which includes forgiveness, healing, deliverance and the redemption of “the poor in spirit.”
     For too long, we have believed that the power of God worked independently from us, and we saw Him as some distant Benefactor or Judge [depending on our circumstances]. Remember, God identifies Himself as the “I AM”. He is not the “I WAS” or the “I WILL BE”.  The same actions of healing and deliverance from demons that He exhibited through the Apostles are to be acted out in faith and obedience by us. 
     When we proclaim the Gospel Message, are we making sure that we know the full extent of that Good News?  That it is not limited to eternal life in Heaven, but extends to daily healing and deliverance in the here and now?  We are called to proclaim that Gospel to the ends of the earth and until Jesus returns. But can we truly say we are fully proclaiming that Gospel if it does not include the signs and miracles that Jesus modeled during His preaching?  
     I know that this is probably outside the purview of mainstream Christianity, but it is precisely because this message has been neglected that the Church is powerless today against the forces coming against our families, the culture, and our government.  It is time that the Body of Christ quit trying to come to terms with the Enemy and go back to the fundamentals of Jesus’s message… He clearly tells us that He came down from heaven, not to do His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him.  All we have to do is read the Scripture through spiritual eyes and see what He did.  That is the true Gospel and the full sense of how the Father views salvation.  That is the power Paul is talking about; it is the length and width and height and depth of God’s power and love to deliver us all from every kind of evil. That is the picture of His Kingdom and Power and Glory that He wants us to see and to do!

SurvivalRing fundraiser time — Updated

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SurvivalRing Radio has been shut down for the time being (mentioned this last Friday). The main SurvivalRing.org site and the SurvivalRingRadio.com websites will remain online…just no upcoming podcasts or shows for the time beings. We’ll call our “Hiatus for the next few months. Focus on family and career (and health) for now….It’s all about the […]

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Mark 11:13-14

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When He came to [the fig tree], He found nothing but leaves, 
for it was not the season for figs. And He said to it, 
“May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

     There are two accounts of Jesus cursing the fig tree in the Bible.  The one in Matthew has a different context than this one in Mark.  Just as in Mark, the Matthew 21:18-22 version has Jesus declaring that the fig tree will not be productive for eating fruit ever again, and then it withers before Him.  But when asked by His disciples how the fig tree could wither so quickly, Jesus gives them a lesson on faith; that faith is an act of one’s will with persistence and perseverance … “If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen”.  He is showing them that faith is being steadfast (or unwavering) in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
     But here in Mark, the story of the fig tree has a different meaning.  Here Jesus sees a fig tree in the distance, and being hungry, He goes to see if He can find anything on it. But when He arrives at the tree, all He finds are leaves — no fruit.  The Bible tells us it’s because it is not the season for figs. And then Jesus curses the fig tree with a declaration that no one would ever eat fruit from it again.
     So what’s up with this fig tree?  And why did it’s absence of fruit result in such condemnation from Jesus?  First of all, we need to take a look at the significance of figs and fig trees in the Bible.  Remember, God doesn’t do anything without a purpose.  Figs are actually throughout Scripture, beginning in the Garden of Eden, where fig leaves covered the shame of Adam and Eve when they discovered they were naked.  Throughout the Bible, the plant becomes a symbol of prosperity, well-being, and security. Along with the vine, to sit under the plentiful shade of your own fig tree is the epitome of safety, peace and good fortune in many Biblical passages. Specifically, Micah 4:4 says, Each of them will sit under his vine, and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
     These plants don’t grow overnight, and it takes time to culture and nurture them – their maturity indicates that the gardener has been continuously and steadfastly there, tending to their growth over the years. And since Jesus states in John 15:1 that He is the True Vine, and my Father is the Vinedresser (Gardener), the point of these verses in Mark comes into focus.  Actually, I believe there is a dual significance to Jesus’s curse.  
     First of all, the fig tree points to the nation of Israel, which had been planted by God and nurtured for so long as His chosen people.  He had remained steadfastly beside them, tending to their growth down through the centuries.  The fact that this fig tree did not have any fruit on it at all, despite the fact that it wasn’t the season for figs, showed Jesus’s [and the Father’s] disappointment and frustration.  After all the tender-loving care the Father had put into the nation of Israel, there should have been some evidence of fruit remaining on the tree.  Since Jesus only said or did what He heard from the Father, we can surmise that God was nearing the time when Israel would be blinded and ineffective in spreading the Gospel.
     But there is a second aspect in view … If we look at these verses from the context that the fig tree represents Believers, Jesus has the right to demand and expect fruit from us at all times — both in and out of season.  And when we recall that there is actually a Fig Tree Generation spoken of in Revelation 6:13 — that generation that is alive when the Sixth Seal is torn open and terror reigns on the earth — it is important that we be bearing fruit in this season, regardless of whether it is time to harvest or not. We should be doing the miraculous works of Jesus at all times, not just when it is practical and in season. 
     To be honest, the meaning behind the cursing of the fig tree can only be surmised, and must be looked at through a supernatural lens. But there is much symbolism attached to the fig tree throughout Scripture, and anytime Jesus is looking at the fruit being produced, we know it has significance for us.  May we all seek to be fruitful and prosperous for the Kingdom, so that when our Lord measures what we have yielded for Him, we will not be found lacking, and suffer condemnation. 

Longing To See

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    This weekend I went to see the movie “The Case for Christ”, a biographical film depicting the life of investigative journalist Lee Strobel, who was an atheist.  In setting out to disprove his wife’s newfound faith in Jesus, Strobel ends up being unable to do so, and must admit that faith in Jesus rests on His resurrection, which is verified by historical and medical circumstances. Unable to debunk  what he thought was myth and legend, and backed by centuries of facts confirmed by different sources [which are the hallmark of his trade as a journalist], Lee surrenders to the knowledge that faith in Jesus’s resurrection is a truth that cannot be denied.  And the atheist becomes a Christian.
     But this post is not about reviewing the movie, but is instead, about a confirming truth from the Bible that the movie brought to light.  In one of the opening scenes, Lee tells his young daughter, that as an atheist, he believes in what he can see…. intimating that Christians believe in fantasies and fairy tales; that their faith is not supported by anything real. But, sadly, I’m afraid that too many Christians share in that mistaken concept, and are missing the fullness of their faith by believing in only what they can see.
     Before I go on with my theory, I want to give credit to Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. Yes, I am talking about that Bethel Church; the Spirit-led church known for miraculous healings and Kingdom work. In his excellent book, When Heaven Invades Earth, I have finally found church leadership that is speaking what the Holy Spirit has been downloading into me and my husband for the last two years.  And it perfectly relates to both what Lee Strobel declared and where many Christians find themselves.  Let me elaborate….
     Like Christianity, Atheism is a religion in itself.  “Religion” can be defined as “an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group”.  A Christian believes in Jesus as their Savior.  An atheist believes in the absence of the existence of a Supreme God or Deity; and may place his belief system in a variety of sources, such as Human Reason, Science, Logic, etc.  Like Lee Strobel said, in something that can be seen or rationally proven.  
     But I want to present to you a radical idea that Pastor Johnson presented in his book, and to which I wonder if Christians have given serious thought.  Johnson makes the simple, yet profound statement that Faith has its anchor in the unseen realm.  But how many Christians base their Faith on their natural sight; what they can see in this world?  And how many fail to consider the supernatural realm and how Jesus and the Apostles instructed us to look for the Kingdom of God there?  That’s what it means to look with spiritual eyes!
     Let me give you a few different Scriptures that will open up a little different concept of what Faith is.  In John, Chapter 3, Nicodemus comes to Jesus, telling Him, “We know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him”.  And what is Jesus’s answer? “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” As Christians, we understand that to “be born again” is to have faith in Jesus as the Son of God.  But look at what Jesus is saying … to have Faith is to SEE the Kingdom of God.  As Bill Johnson states in his book, FAITH SEES. With spiritual eyes, we can see into the spiritual realm, where the Kingdom of God comes into focus.  But it is in the unseen realm, not what we see here in this physical world.
     The Apostle Paul reinforces this truth when he says, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2), and “For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).  Can you see how closely we Christians can fall into the same trap that Lee Strobel did; thinking that Truth can only be found in what our human eyes can see or discern?  If, as a Christian, you put that restriction on your faith, don’t you run the risk of missing all of our Father’s resources and benefits?  Didn’t Jesus say He only did what He saw His Father do?  Can you accept the possibility that the measure of our Faith is rooted in our ability to see into that supernatural realm as Jesus did?  And that our belief system to actually put our Faith into action must be able to see beyond this world to the very throne room of God and His Presence?
     When you think about it, Belief/Faith is anchored to the invisible and the revealed will of God… meaning we have to seek to see it.  On the other hand, and as Bill Johnson expresses so well, “Unbelief is anchored in what is visible or reasonable apart from God. It honors the natural realm as superior to the invisible [or supernatural realm]”.  That’s a pretty radical thought for Christians and paints a picture that is hard for us to swallow.  It is not to say that we don’t see God in this natural realm. He is recognized in all His Creation, whether it be rivers, trees, the ocean, babies, angels, or heaven. We are able to see the witness of Him everywhere… for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.  But how many of us have difficulty in putting our faith in something we can’t actually see in front of our faces?  And if this is so, how are we any different than Lee Strobel was when he was an atheist?  Doesn’t the writer of Hebrews tell us that faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see?
     Taking it a step further, Unbelief is actually faith in something other than God.  So, I must ask — who is your faith in?  Your Doctor? Your Pastor? Your Spouse? If it is in anyone or anything other than God, He is jealous over what occupies your heart.  And I know how difficult it is to admit that my faith is not all I want it to be.  But it is important that each of us recognize how easily our faith can be compromised.

     Satan has no power except when we come into agreement with him.  So whenever we let fear, or bitterness, or envy, or pride, into our hearts, a process of decay begins and there is room for the devil to come in and begin influencing us.  So our faith must become active and aggressive!  We must “see” that battle over our heart from a spiritual and Kingdom perspective, and force the reality of God’s supernatural realm into a collision with our natural one.
     We must come to realize that we have all the power of heaven behind us!  When our Faith can see the availability of the power of God as Jesus did, and bring it into our actual circumstances here on earth, we are invincible! That is exactly what Jesus did, and He gave us the Authority to do that same thing in Luke 10:19! It is then that the meaning of our Lord’s Prayer comes into real focus … Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.  This is not meant to be a mechanical prayer.  It is the reality of our Faith seeing into the spiritual realm and calling down Heaven [and the Kingdom of God] into our earthly existence.  It is as available to us as it was to Jesus! It’s time we Christians begin seeing the invisible!

Matthew 5:8    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 

Matthew 22:29

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But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God…”

     In this particular scene in the Bible, Jesus has been challenged by the Sadducees regarding the social order of society after the resurrection.  These representatives of the upper social and economic echelon of Jewish society fulfilled various political, social, and religious roles, including maintaining the Temple. The Sadducees rejected the Oral Law as proposed by the Pharisees. Rather, they saw the written Torah as the sole source of divine authority, and they are known for not believing in the resurrection of the dead. Rather, they believed in the traditional Jewish concept of Sheol for those who had died.  And according to the Hebrew traditions, Sheol was a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life; a place of stillness and darkness cut off from life and from God.
     So, we can see that by questioning Jesus about the Torah’s command that a man marry his brother’s widow, they hope to lay a trap for Him about the resurrected life… Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh.  Last of all, the woman died.  In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.
     But Jesus is not fooled.  He sees through their subterfuge, and answers rightly: You are mistaken, not understanding [or knowing] the Scriptures nor the power of God.  The first mistake in their reasoning is supposing that if there were a resurrection, men and women would marry as they do in this life.  Jesus makes it clear that this won’t be the case: men and women will be like the angels of God — immortal, and free from all human passions that are part of our present state of existence. There will be no death; and consequently no need of marriage to maintain the population of the spiritual world.
     Furthermore, as supposed experts on the written Torah (the entire Old Testament), they were showing their ignorance of Scriptures such as Daniel 12:2 and Job 19:25-27, which plainly tell of the resurrection of the dead. Jesus is saying, in effect, that their ignorance of Scripture has led them to disbelief in the resurrection. But there is even more to the absurdity of their challenge.
     When they try to present a ridiculous scenario of marriage after the resurrection, Christ attributes that to their ignorance of the power of God.  And He disarms their argument by reminding them that the God they profess to believe in has made known that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and by declaring that this same God is the God of the living, not the dead [letting them know that the spirits of the Patriarchs are not dead].
     But that wasn’t the only challenge He would receive.  Next, came the Pharisees, who had heard that Jesus had silenced the illogical arguments of the Sadducees. Rather than counting themselves among the elite of Jewish religious society, the Pharisees had the backing of the common people, and claimed Mosaic authority for their interpretation of Jewish Laws.  They gave precedent to the Oral Torah, consisting of the body of oral laws, interpretations, and traditions transmitted by God to Moses orally, and then memorized. So their challenge to Jesus came in the form of a question … Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?  
      Jesus’s answer is concise and deliberate:  “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” There is no debate and no arguing over the veracity; and no need to expound upon countless laws or traditions. 
     So what can we learn from these two different confrontations with Jesus by religious men?  I do not doubt that these men would declare their love for God, just as many Believers would say today. But if we say we want to serve God, is it enough to just say that we love Him? Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 22 that we can love our God, but have doctrinal beliefs that are mistaken; that we may not truly understand what He is telling us in Scripture, and thereby become ignorant of His power.
     How many in the Church today are saying, “I love you” to God, while [like the Sadducees and Pharisees] they are dying because they have only head knowledge of Him, but no heart knowledge?  How many are spiritually suffering because they don’t truly know Him or His power in our lives? We need to look beyond just loving God, to knowing Him and our position in this world.  
     How many of us can truly say, “I love You [God], and because I have set my love on You, I am rooted and grounded in Your love for me. I am growing each day into an understanding of what is the breadth and length and height and depth of Your love.  And because I am understanding Your love, Father, I am walking in Your Power. Furthermore, I know You will deliver me from the snares of the Enemy.  I will see things in this spiritual battle called Life, but they won’t touch me.  Because of my love for You, I know I am in command over the Enemy, and I know the position of Authority that is mine. I love Your Word, Father, and it speaks of Your Power which is at work in me. All Glory to God”!
     Like the Sadducees and the Pharisees, our Enemy seeks to lay traps for us in our understanding of Scripture and God. It is not enough to hang our relationship with God on our head knowledge.  He doesn’t want a circumcision of our minds, but of our hearts.  So, love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and seek the Kingdom first, through study of God’s Holy Word.  Avoid the religious traps that mire us in endless arguments over our sacred religious cows, and which keep us focused on ourselves and our own understandings. Continuing to seek God above all else, and desiring Him more, is the secret to both Divine understanding and power.  



Mark 7:9, 13

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He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition … making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. Many such things you do”.

     The context in which this Scripture is written concerns certain of the Pharisees and Scribes finding fault with Jesus’s disciples because they did not observe the tradition of hand-washing before eating. Furthermore, Scripture tells us that this tradition of external washing carried over to the washing of cups, pots, tables, and anything that the Jews felt could defile them.
     Jesus takes this opportunity to reprove them for worshipping Him with their lips, but not with their hearts. But this kind of worship is in vain [producing no fruit], and He admonishes them for teaching the commandments of men as doctrine.  He then tells them that it is apparent that they are willing to lay aside the commandments of God — to disregard and neglect them — in order that they might cling faithfully to their man-made traditions (Mark 7:8).  In verse 9, He then takes it one step further and bluntly tells them they are experts at the outright rejection and nullifying of God’s word in favor of their traditions! Our Lord then sums it up in verse 13 by declaring that they are making the word of God have no effect through the traditions they have handed down. In other words, He accuses them of canceling the authority of the word of God in favor of their own traditions and doctrines.  
    My question to Believers today is this … Aren’t we just as guilty?  Haven’t we gotten so caught up in ritual and traditions and doctrines that we have disregarded and neglected the word of God?  How much of our “faith” is centered around oral traditions that have been passed down in our denominations, yet there is no Scriptural support for them?  How many Christians will passionately defend their belief systems of Cessationism, Calvinism, and Replacement Theology — yet use the words or writings of men as their primary source to re-interpret the Bible? I am not saying that these writings are worthless or that we should not consider them, but when they become the foundation of our theology, rather than the Bible, then aren’t we diminishing the power and effectiveness of the Word of God?
     How many Christians cling faithfully to following the traditions of Christmas and Easter, when there is no mention of either in the Bible?  What about the doctrine of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture? Why are Christians so willing to accept the postulations of men instead of searching the Bible for what God actually says or commands?
     Those are the “heavy” doctrines of men, but we are just as guilty of creating our own worship rituals that are as vain as the external washing practiced by the Pharisees.  Where in the Bible do you find God commanding us to establish Church buildings, a structured order of worship services, Sunday School, Sermons from a head Pastor or Preacher, or Church Boards or Councils?  Think very hard before you answer that question … I am not denigrating the purpose of these institutions, just asking if they were initiated by man or God?
     I understand that it is difficult to admit that man has created his own rituals and called them “from God”.  We need to come to the truth and reality that rituals like Sunday School is a very recent man-made concept to “classroom-ize” that which Jesus and the Apostles purposely brought out of the classroom mentality of the Jews and the Greeks! Pastors and Preachers come from Luther’s Protestant version of Sunday Mass. And steeples, bells, altars, Mission Boards, and structured Worship Services did not characterize Christianity in the First Century, showing us that the Apostles did not receive instruction from Jesus to establish them. 
     Instead we find these external symbols, along with weightier doctrines, to be the doctrines of men in the churches of men.  I believe, as was written on a website called jesuslifetogether.com, that Jesus intended for His Church to be a church that is not bound by time and place, but “daily in public, and from house to house.” She’ll be “joined and knit together by every supporting ligament,” everyone members of one-another,” “confessing sins one to another,” “admonishing one another daily so that none are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,” always loving and serving and “bearing one-another’s burdens” in joy and thanksgiving. And a few tears. Her corporate gatherings will only be the overflow of what is happening on the streets and in the homes of all of her people. “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own.”
     Does this describe The Church today?  Or are Christians limited by the traditions established in their particular denominations and in their singular buildings?  Are our churches “seeking first The Kingdom of God”? Or are we too pre-occupied with our own conceptions of what God wants?  
     Sadly, I think that we have chosen to disregard Jesus’s commandments about the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.  That was the purpose for which He was sent.  Yes, our salvation is a by-product of the Kingdom, and we should earnestly seek it through faith in Jesus as our Savior.  But how have we come to refuse the authority of His Word as spoken in Mark 16:15-18 … And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
     Our Lord’s commandment couldn’t be any clearer, yet have we heard this message presented as Biblical doctrine in our churches?  Or are we too busy trying to justify man’s doctrines, by either ignoring Scripture or re-interpreting it?  Which do you think is better — man’s version of our Commission, or God’s?  Seems to me, that we have our proof in the sad state of our culture and the world. Where is the verifiable fruit of worshipping God in our own way?  
     The Prophet Isaiah declared that the Word of God would “not return void.” But we have seen that Jesus elaborated further and with powerful implications. Our Lord taught us that there was yet ONE thing that could make null and void the Word of God in your life: “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that”.  This a sobering thought and one that I hope every Christian takes to heart.

The Loss Of Faith In This Generation

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     Those of us, who are of a certain age, remember the famous statement by Ronald Reagan: Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction… The same can be said of Faith, which is its own kind of freedom, wouldn’t you say?  And while I do not agree with Christian Apologist Ken Ham on his “Young Earth Creationist” theory, I am in full agreement with what he wrote on his website, Answers in Genesis.  Mr. Ham said, “Every generation has the same decision to make: Will I serve the God of the Bible or a false god? The “god of this world” may shift his seductions slightly from generation to generation, but the basic challenge is always the same. So, Christians must be ever vigilant. Every newborn must be taught the truth from scratch or else that soul could be completely lost. While statistics indicate that churches and Christian homes are failing to reach kids, God has given us all the resources we need to turn the tide!”     

     Sadly, I believe this generation of young adults is on the verge of succumbing to a most clever seduction of the Enemy.  Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., who serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, supports this theory by explaining, “When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”  

     Exactly what are the foundations of such a belief system?  1) A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.  2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.  3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one’s self.  4) God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.  5) Good people go to heaven when they die.
     As you can see, this is a belief system based on the premise that “the self” is primary, and God is an appendage to the lives we live.  He’s there, but only when we need Him; like a “Medicine Cabinet God”.  And you can see touches of Gnosticism in these beliefs too: the goal is to be happy, and pleased with yourself; Faith is subjective (personal, individual, emotional, instinctive, intuitive); there is no recognition of God’s superiority or Jesus’s sacrifice for our sins — all we have to do is “be Good”. 
      In other words, this is very close to the same lies and seduction that Satan offered Adam and Even in the Garden: That the Word (Bible) is not reliable (allowing for doubt and distortion); That God doesn’t have our best interests in mind, (if I follow His rules, I won’t have any fun in this life!); and That your sin isn’t all that bad (God knows I’m a good person overall and that’s what counts).  In essence, our latest generation is believing the lie that Satan told Eve:  Be your own God!
      After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the University of North Carolina researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and “whatever.” As the researchers explained, “For most teens [and I would surmise young adults], nobody has to do anything in life, including anything to do with religion. ‘Whatever’ is just fine, if that’s what a person wants.”

     It’s abundantly obvious — most Millennials can tell you more details than you want to know about the lives of favorite musicians and television/movie stars, or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were.  And with this conclusion, it is equally obvious that our culture has not followed God’s commandment to “train up” the next generation.  He says it over and over in the Bible … when God miraculously enabled Joshua to lead the people through the Jordan River, the first thing He told Joshua to do was to take twelve stones from the riverbed to build a memorial. But what was the memorial for? God wanted Joshua to explain, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall let your children know . . . the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over . . . that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever” (Joshua 4:21–24).  The stones were to remind the parents to make sure they taught the next generation about the true God. They were instructed to pass on the knowledge and fear of God to their children.

     But, as a nation and a culture, I’m afraid we have failed to do this.  When we took God, the Bible, and prayer out of our public schools, [and failed to establish them in our homes], we are left with generations of kids who have no foundational knowledge of God and His Word, and once in college and living on their own, they are likely to abandon Him altogether.  What’s even more sad to me is that both these kids and their parents have not been taught apologetics ((how to give a reasoned defense of the Christian faith) in their homes or churches, so they don’t believe it themselves and certainly can’t defend it to others. 
     In effect, this theory of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism boils down to a couple of ideas … It’s all about individualism (let’s not be judgmental, and everything is relative to the individual); and just “being nice” is central to living a good and happy life and being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.  Just like Satan taught:  Be your own god!
     As the researchers explained, “This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. [young adults] is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”
     But that’s not what God commanded us to teach the next generation!  In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, He tells us, “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” Instead, we have allowed ourselves to be seduced by Satan:  Don’t listen to God! He just wants it to be all about Him!  I’m offering you an easier, more pleasant faith that is way more tolerant and undemanding. Instead of doctrines of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, and heaven and hell, I am offering you a life on this earth [now] centered on happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward (but that’s later, you don’t have to worry about it now). 

    By now, it should be obvious that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a faith in “self”, not Faith in God.  We tend to treat spiritual problems with a medicinal treatment plan.  Sin, and the Wrath and Justice of God, are terms that don’t fit in well with our modern language and goal of self-actualization (the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities). 

     So how do we reach a generation that is falling away from Faith in Jehovah God, as well as a nation that largely considers itself Christian, yet has very little knowledge or experience in Biblical Christianity?  It is apparent that we need to return to the directives God has given us in His Word… We must be earnest and persistent in teaching our children what the Bible says about God, so that they know WHAT they believe, WHY they believe it, and HOW to defend the Faith against the attacks of today’s secular culture.  Then we have a generation that can proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God with AUTHORITY, because they believe by Whose Authority it stands.  
     They must be taught what “Faith in Christ” means… to know what it means to “Be Saved” and to “Walk with God”, and all from a Biblical perspective, using God’s own words!  We must answer their hard questions about sin in our culture and what happens when you die without knowing Jesus as your Savior.  We cannot give them more tolerant and permissive answers.  They must be taught Truth as God presents it in His Word — not what the popular opinion is.  Once they accept the Bible as true, and the Authority of the One who inspired it to be written, then the world, with all its challenges, will begin to make sense to them. They need to see the reality of sin, and know God’s Grace and Mercy, as well as His Judgment.  
     Once this generation knows [and believes] the Gospel Message that Christ died for us, was buried, and rose again with a promise of salvation to all those who have faith in Him, they will know that the power of that Gospel to save sinners rests on the authority of God’s Word.  They will then need to be encouraged to boldly proclaim that Gospel to a lost world — something that we have failed to do for several generations, and our society and nation are suffering for it.  But it is not too late!  We must replace the religion of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with a genuine Faith in Jesus Christ by committing to instructing our children and grandchildren as God, the Father commanded us.  If we plant the seeds of the knowledge and authority of God through His Word, our Father and the Holy Spirit will be faithful to water them. It may take only one generation to lose Faith, but we can begin today to raise up the next one in Truth and Commitment to God and for the salvation of the world.  With God and His Word instructing us and them, how can we fail?
Judges 2:10-12  All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.  Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger.  
 

Learn To Live In The Present

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Do you know what happens when we choose to ignore forgiveness and instead choose to hold to anger and grudges? Instead of living in our present moment and enjoying life, we end up living in the past. Everything we do is coloured by what happened weeks, months or even years ago. That’s no way to live! Being stuck in the past is part of what makes you feel trapped. It’s time to stop being stuck in the past and to learn to live in the present. Embracing the idea of living in the here and now is another tool that

Focus On The Growth

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So far much of what we talked about has been very negative. Yes, the end goal has been increased peace of mind and happiness, but to get there, we had to wade through all the ugly stuff first and work hard at forgiving it. Welcome to Day Twenty Eight of 30 Days to Forgiveness! While that’s certainly a big part of the story, it isn’t all of it. In any situation, no matter how ugly or sad, there’s almost always something good, or something good is coming out of it. Do you want an example? As I was being wheeled

Take Responsibility For Your Own Part

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In the last post we talked about being kind instead of being right. Using an example from my own life, I showed that it’s possible for both parties to be “right”. Seeing the situation from the other’s perspective can help us understand when we might not have a monopoly on being right. Welcome to Day Twenty Seven of 30 Days to Forgiveness Today we’re going to take it a step further. Today I will suggest that you start to take responsibility for your part in whatever must be forgiven. Hey, don’t run away yet. This isn’t about ‘blame’. Remember how

Resurrection and Rebirth

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     You might notice something different about my blog today… the Holy Spirit has been showing me that it is time to be my authentic self and reveal my real name.  Back when I began writing this blog in December of 2011 (it’s hard to imagine that it’s been that long ago!) I was writing from a different spiritual perspective.  Although I have always written for God, then my focus was on the experiences of this world and how my faith in God affected my interpretation of my worldview. Therefore, at the time, I thought it best to write under a pen name that invoked my self-proclaimed purpose [to awaken the sleeping masses and “ring the bell”] to get their attention. After all, who would be drawn to read a blog by a no-name woman, with no credibility. Thus, I came up with a name that described what I was trying to accomplish, and Belle Ringer was born.
    Now, more than five years later, my focus is on the spiritual realm, the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and my higher calling to be a true Child of God.  What happens in this world is secondary; although it still very much influences how I serve my God and fellow man — I am in this world to reflect the image of Christ and to continue His works; but I am not of this world. It is time to speak in truth and genuineness… and therefore, time to be my real self … Pam Kohler.  Granted, to the world my name still holds no credibility.  But to my God, who has known me since before the foundation of the world, it is who I honestly am; and I am not ashamed to proclaim Him to this world, using my legal name.

     But I also wanted to honor all the people who have trusted me and my husband, Mark — people who have come to us in their true identities as hurting souls; people with spirits so low and tormented that we were often their last hope of getting free.  Make no mistake — these people came to us not because they thought we could save them; but because somehow they knew our faith could support them until they could find Jesus on their own.  And we always made it clear that it is Jesus and the Holy Spirit who do the redemptive work — not us!
     We are no different than anyone else. We have our own stories of sin-filled lives and emotional traumas. We still have to fight to keep from believing the lies that the Father of Lies would like to dump on us.  But God took us from our ordinary, worldly lives into an extraordinary spiritual relationship with Him, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  It has been a step-by-step process of seeing Them unpeeled like an onion; layer after layer bringing us into newfound freedoms from the bondage of the devil. And it is work that needs to be done in the lives of everyone Jesus created.
     It is rewarding work, yet at times exhaustive. We have seen people rise from the depths of torment to live new, resurrected lives of joy in the Lord.  We have also seen people slide back into torment when they don’t take responsibility for keeping their freedom.  We have seen Unsaved people grab hold of Jesus, weep at the presence of the Holy Spirit, and soar like an eagle with their newfound faith.  At the same time, it has been our experience that lifelong Christians are the toughest ones to let Jesus heal their inner wounds.  The years of Church doctrine, man-made traditions, and flawed theology must all be broken down before the Saved are willing to let their spirits meet with Jesus. And we have, sadly, lost a young man who loved Jesus so deeply, accepted Jesus’s forgiveness, yet could not forgive himself because he believed the devil’s lie that he was unworthy of the Lord’s sacrifice for him. We just ran out of time to help him. That day, Jesus wept, and so did we.
     The Enemy may think he scored a victory, and that we will be convinced that we are waging a losing [spiritual] war — that we can’t get to enough people to introduce them to the healing power of Jesus — that the numbers of hurting souls are too great, and the scales are balanced in his favor.  But it is in honor of that young man, who trusted us enough to reveal his true self and allow us to help him pour out his pain to Jesus, that we will continue to battle the Darkness until our last breath.
     Because with every one of the people God has brought into our lives, we know without a doubt that Satan is real and spiritual attacks are genuine.  Whether you are Saved, Unsaved, or Ambivalent you are a target of the roaring lion who is looking for someone to devour.  But you only have to receive Jesus, the Son of the Living God, into your heart, believing that His death on the Cross paid for your sins, and you can have the hope of a resurrected life, just as He was resurrected to sit on the right hand of the throne of God.  There is no sin that cannot be covered by His blood!
     So, it is with extreme humbleness that I offer my authentic self to you, the readers, and I thank you for sticking by someone whom you did not really know through all these years.  I pledge to you that I will continue to reveal the Truth as my Lord and the Holy Spirit reveal it to me, and that I will always be here for those who need a listening ear and a willing heart. The [Spiritual] Harvest is plentiful, and the Lord can count on me and my husband to be faithful workers in the field of souls … right to the very end.  God Bless You All!

Colossians 1:29    “For in this I also labor and fight with the help of the Power that is given to me”. (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

1 Corinthians 15:19-20

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If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

Ascension (John Singleton Copley, 1775)

     Today, I decided to take a look back at what I’ve written over the past 5-6 years about this momentous Day, and to compose an anthology [of sorts] of the important points I have wanted to make about the Resurrection of Christ.  Combined, this provides an overview of my theology and my faith. Here’s to our hope of being raised in the imperishable image of our Lord!

     Today is the holiest day in Christianity. Known as Easter, it has come to mean the celebration of the resurrection of Christ three days after His crucifixion. It is the oldest Christian holiday and the most important day of the church year because of what Christ did for us.  His willingness to pay the debt owed by all mankind throughout history, for the sins we have committed, culminates at the Cross.  He endured God’s wrath [that we deserve] so that we could be forgiven our sins and reconciled with God, our Father in Heaven.  Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection constitutes the single most important event upon which Christianity is based.

     All Christians should acknowledge that this day is in celebration of the restoration of our relationship with God.  Christ’s resurrection represents so much:  He had finished the work His Father sent him to do; His death on the Cross completed His task, namely establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, and seeking and saving those who are lost.  Through these acts, Jesus provided atonement for the sins of all who would ever believe in Him (Romans 3:23-25).  None other than God in the flesh could accomplish such a task.
     But there’s more!  Also completed was the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies, symbols, and foreshadowings of the coming Messiah. From Genesis to Malachi, there are over 300 specific prophecies detailing the coming of the Anointed One, all fulfilled by Jesus. From the “seed” who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15), to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, to the prediction of the “messenger” of the Lord (John the Baptist) who would “prepare the way” for the Messiah — all prophecies of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death were fulfilled and finished at the Cross.
     While I believe that all of Christianity worships this holiday in sincere faith, I am also convinced they do so influenced by Satan’s deception.  Let me explain:  I have searched the Bible for any mention of a holiday called Easter … I can find none.  But in 325 AD, Emperor Constantine, at the Nicean Council, ordered all Churches to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on “Easter Sunday”.  The early Church had celebrated the Resurrection during the Passover, beginning on the 14th day of the Hebrew month called Nisan, which could fall on any day of the week.  But the Churches near Rome had abandoned the practice because they hated the Jews, blaming them for the death of Jesus, so they fixed the date to the first Sunday after the first full moon of Spring, which coincided with the ancient Roman celebration called ‘Easter’, after the pagan goddess of Spring, Eostre. 
     It is important to note that during the first couple hundred years of the Early Church, believers followed the Jewish traditions of the Lord’s Feasts.  But Constantine’s Satan-induced hatred of the Jews caused the Jewish influence (in the form of the Feasts) to be erased from the Church.  Here is a direct quote from Constantine himself:   “And truly, in the first place, it seems to everyone a most unworthy thing that we should follow the customs of the Jews in the celebration of this most holy solemnity, who, polluted wretches! having stained their hands with a nefarious crime, are justly blinded in their minds. It is fit, therefore, that rejecting the practice of this people, we should perpetuate to all future ages the celebration of this rite, in a more legitimate order, which we have kept from the first day of our “Lord’s” passion even to the present times. Let us then have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews.” (Council of Nicea, pg. 52.)
     The consequences of this hostility towards the Jews has meant that nearly 2000 years after its establishment, the Church has lost the truth about God’s commandments as to how we are to celebrate His Son’s resurrection. And with this deception, we pay no attention to the Biblical connections.
     I understand that there are many Evangelical leaders who do not see the pagan influences in our celebration of Easter. And I want to make it clear … I rejoice with my Christian brothers and sisters when they celebrate the reason for Easter.. that Christ died on the Cross for us, so that our sin debt would be paid and we can be found acceptable in the sight of our Holy God… and that He was resurrected as the first among us who believe in God’s power to do so.  His resurrection is a mirror of what we will one day experience!  Hallelujah!
     I simply choose to see more in this celebration than what the Church has traditionally taught.  I have been blessed to have the Holy Spirit reveal that God’s Feasts show His plan for mankind’s redemption, and that the Feast of Firstfruits was God’s instituted “rehearsal” for the harvest of Jesus’s soul and His resurrection, and the promise that we will one day be a part of God’s end-time harvest.
      This recognition in no way undermines the faith of those who want to celebrate Easter.  For me, I just see no Scriptural reference to a holy day celebration called “Easter” in Scripture; but I do see references to the Feast of Firstfruits and its implications of Christ’s [and all Christians’] resurrection in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Nehemiah, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Romans, 1 Corinthians, James, and Revelation.
      The regulations for Firstfruits were outlined by God in Leviticus 23.  I would venture to say that most Christians skip this chapter of the Bible, labeling it as laws that pertained [only] to the ancient Israelites; too restrictive; too discriminatory; or just plain unnecessary for the modern Believer.
     But if you do a deep study of the Word, you will find so much significance for this season of worship.  Firstfruits was essentially the beginning of the grain harvest in Israel, and on this particular day a specific sheaf of barley, which had been marked for this occasion, was to be brought to the priest at the Temple, who would wave it (or exhibit it) before the Lord for acceptance. (Can you see Jesus hanging on the Cross?)  It was representative of the barley harvest as a whole and served as a pledge or guarantee that the remainder of the harvest would be realized in the days that followed.
     Accompanying this time of worship were other offerings to the Lord … an unblemished male lamb, a drink offering of wine, and a meal offering of the barley flour mixed with olive oil (an unleavened bread).  Are you starting to get the picture?  During this holy season of worship, Jesus, our High Priest, can be seen in all the pictures of the Passover week … as the sacrificial lamb; in the wine offering which represents His blood spilled for us; in the unleavened bread (leaven represents sin in the Bible and Jesus was without “leaven”); and as the climactic event, He is the First to be raised from the dead.  He is representative of the harvest of Believers as a whole, and His resurrection serves as a guarantee that all those who believe and trust on Him will be harvested to resurrected glory as well.  He is the beginning (Firstfruit) of God’s final harvest of all mankind. 
     And for those who still struggle with the prophetic meaning of this holy day, consider this: after his death and burial, Christ rose again on the third day of the Passover season, on the very day of the Feast of Firstfruits.  Do you think that this was coincidental?  I am just overwhelmed with “the picture” of His salvation plan that God has given us through His Feast Days.  If we truly meditate upon them, we will realize that they are more than just ancient rituals.  They point to Christ at every turn!
     In the final analysis, I am eternally grateful for Jesus’s sacrifice for me; I eagerly look forward to the Father’s reaping of souls and I thank Him for showing us the picture of what that harvest will look like through the resurrection of His Son … the Firstfruit of all who will follow Him.  And this is what I wish for everyone who believes…. that on this holy day, we will know that Jesus’s triumphant and glorious victory over death is ours, as well.  We can count on it!  Just as He was resurrected to new life, so shall we be.  And that certainty will give us hope so that we might endure suffering, persecution, and danger.  Just as He did.  We are living in perilous times, and our faith will be tested.  Do not fear!  We know our destination! When Jesus rose from the dead, He showed us that God has the power to resurrect us, too!  No matter what God has in store for us, we can lay claim to His promise.  On this day, we celebrate the blessed guarantee that those who believe in Christ will be victorious over Death and will be resurrected unto Eternal Life.  It is with a humble and grateful heart, that I proclaim, He Is Risen!
     

John 15:1-5

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“I am the true vine, … I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing”.

     These are the opening words of John 15, a chapter that is very likely familiar to most Christians.  It speaks of Jesus as the vine, and our Father as the vinedresser; of branches — both those that bear fruit, and those who don’t.  It presents the image of pruned branches that grow to produce more fruit, and branches that dry up and are cast into the fire where they are burned. And throughout it all, Jesus talks about abiding … He in the Father; us in Him, and He in us.  Yes, we are familiar with this Chapter, but do we know what He was really saying, and why He picked this particular imagery?
     First of all, I wonder how many discern that this metaphor of the vine, vinedresser, and branches is part of the discussion Jesus has with His disciples during His last Passover supper?  And that ultimately, He is disclosing to them the desired relationship of Believers to Himself and the Father?
     When I researched the attributes and the actions of a Vinedresser, it began to be clearer to me why He used these symbols. A vinedresser is more than a mere farmer. Grapes are more than an annual crop. The vinedresser’s grape vines remain with him for decades. He comes to know each one in a personal way, much like a shepherd with his sheep. He knows how the vine is faring from year to year and which ones are more productive or vigorous than others. He knows what they respond to and what special care certain one’s need. Every vine has its own personality. And the vinedresser comes to know it over the years. The vinedresser cares for each vine and nurtures it, pruning it the appropriate amount at the appropriate times, fertilizing it, lifting its branches from the ground and propping them or tying them to the trellis, and taking measures to protect them from insects and disease.
     But it becomes even more interesting when we note that the nation of Israel is often symbolized as “a vine” in the Old Testament.  Psalm 80:7-19 pictures Israel as the vine “God brought out of Egypt”; depicting the Father as the gardener, and picturing Israel in a state of judgment and destruction, calling to God to be restored. Isaiah’s “Song of the Vineyard”, in Chapter 5, verses 1-7 clearly identifies the house of Israel as “the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts”, and the “men of Judah as His delightful plant”. Once again, Israel is depicted with great optimism and potential, but ultimately judged because of moral and spiritual failure. 
     Moreover, being in Jerusalem during the Festival of Passover, Jesus and His disciples would have observed the unmistakable imagery of the vine when they visited the Temple. I found it interesting that Josephus, the First Century Jewish scholar, wrote of this great golden vine that hung over the entrance to the Jerusalem temple. Josephus describes it: “The gate opening into the building was, as I say, completely overlaid with gold, as was the whole wall around it. It had, moreover, above it those golden vines, from which depended grape-clusters as tall as a man.”
     Further evidence in the Old Testament of this imagery can be found in Hosea 10:1-2, where Israel is depicted as “an empty vine”; throughout Ezekiel (Chapters 15, 17, and 19) as a rebellious vine, whose root was plucked up, and fruit devoured; and in Jeremiah 2:21, as a once “choice” or “noble” vine, which has turned into a wild, degenerate, and foreign vine. So, when Jesus refers to Himself as the “true” vine, His meaning would have been unmistakeable to these original hearers. 
     They would have been very familiar with the idea of the house of Israel as the “choicest” or “chosen” vine of God. But they also would have caught a specific use of grammar that escapes our 21st Century understanding.  To begin with, He uses the definite article to describe Himself. (The definite article, in grammar, is used to refer to a particular member of a group or class. It may be something that the speaker has already mentioned or it may be something uniquely specified). Thereby, Jesus is saying, “I am the vine, not a vine”.
     Jesus’s use of “true” to describe Himself as “the vine” God cares for, is pointing to the nation’s failure, but also to the fact of His own good and authentic, genuine relationship with God. Where the nation failed God, Jesus was the complete embodiment of everything they were supposed to be. This same concept is evident in the first chapters of Matthew. There, Matthew describes Jesus’ early life and experiences before beginning His ministry as a parallel to Israel’s history … Israel came out of Egypt to the Promised Land; so did Jesus. Israel was tempted for forty years in the wilderness, and failed. Jesus was tempted for forty days, and did not fail. He was clearly proclaiming His Messianic identity.
     But we cannot fail to understand the rest of this parable of the vine and the vinedresser, and how it pertains to us.  While the Old Testament passages I have noted tie the image of the vine to the nation of Israel, Jesus changes the perspective. He doesn’t focus on the nation of Israel and what it should have been; on the nation’s sins and responsibility. Instead, He shifts the focus to His disciples bearing fruit.  He wants to emphasize the relationship Believers have with the Father and the resulting fruitfulness that brings. Thus, His real focus is on the nature of the vine. 
     And since He is the vine, what is His nature? I believe the most concise description that Jesus gives us of His nature, is found in Matthew 28:18 … All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  That word “power” is the Greek word exousia and is defined as “in the sense of ability, and privilege; force, capacity, competency, freedom, mastery, superhuman, delegated influence; the power of authority”. That is what the Father gave to Jesus, so that He might be endued (empowered) to accomplish His Father’s work here on earth. 
     And since we are the branches that are supposed to grow and produce fruit from that vine, what is our nature to be?  Jesus tells us in this analogy of the vine … He abides in us; He and His nature are present in us.  We abide in Him; we press into Him until we become His nature. And the result? We bear much fruit!  But let us not get too full of pride. He makes it very clear that this exousia power and authority is only available through Him.  Apart from Him, we are unable to accomplish anything. But by acknowledging and exercising His nature within us, we have the power and authority to help grow the vine by producing more fruit — “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. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
     We can do that because He is “with us always”; abiding in us. We are the branches that grow from the vine; branches that the Vinedresser nurtures, cares for, and prunes, and protects. We can perpetuate “The Vine” and His nature by demonstrating His nature that is in us — doing the things He did and accomplishing the works He achieved for the Father’s Kingdom. This important passage in the Bible is more than an interesting allegory.  It is showing us who we are to be!
     
     
     


     

Have We Lost Our Way?

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     I was intrigued with a recent article on the Charisma News website.  It quoted a prophetic statement made by Dr. Elton Trueblood, the former chaplain for Stanford and Harvard universities in the early 1900s. He was once asked what the church in America would look like in the last half of the 20th century. Dr. Trueblood stated, “By the year 2000, Christians in America will be a conscious minority surrounded by an arrogant, militant paganism.”  Well, we are nearly two decades past his prognostication, and I daresay that not only is the Body of Christ surrounded by paganism, but we are becoming increasingly comfortable with compromising with the pagan world.
    I feel confident in saying that because I see too much evidence that the Church and Christians are willing to let the “leaven” of the world infiltrate our professed faith in God.  Remember, in our discussion of God’s Feasts yesterday that He warned the Israelites about sweeping the corrupting influence of Egypt out of their lives. Yet, I’m afraid that I see the world and its corrupting values permeating the sanctity of our Church buildings and our faith.

     I’m pretty sure that some of what I’m about to say will be viewed as legalistic, rigid, and uncompromising.  But I would like to propose the idea that it is precisely because of our compromise and lack of obedience to God’s Word that the world is in the mess it’s in. Because the Church has presented only a picture of a Loving and Merciful God, there is no fear of Him or His Judgment.  In addition, we have let the ideology of “tolerance” overshadow the areas in which Jesus was intolerant. As followers of Christ, we have become tolerant about divorce; about what constitutes the Biblical concept of marriage; about wickedness in high places; about immorality, as evidenced by the existence of rampant pornography, sex trafficking, and pedophilia; and crime and godlessness have become accepted norms in society, with nary a peep out of the Church.
     We have forgotten that Jesus warned us to enter by the narrow gate. He said, narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. This is perfectly illustrated by the Billy Graham Association, which wrote, “If you should ask a man the directions to New York City and he said, ‘Oh, just take any road you wish, they all lead to New York,’ you would question both his sanity and his truthfulness.  Nevertheless, we have somehow gotten it into our minds that ‘all roads lead to Heaven.’ ” Yet, even Billy Graham, himself, whose faith in Jesus is without question, when asked whether those who belong to religions that reject Christ as Savior (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.) and secularists will be saved, responded, “Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there [in heaven] and who won’t. … I don’t want to speculate about that.” I guess he’s forgotten the Word of God!
    In fact, there was a time when no professed Christian would have dared to entertain the thought that other gods offer a path to eternal life. What was once solid doctrine has slowly eroded into the acceptance of multiple paths to eternity. And with that sliding scale of righteousness, we are becoming the makers of our own moral values. The consequences of Biblical sin are diminished, while standards of Divine morality or Divine revelation go unspoken.  How convenient is that? When God’s standards are ridiculed or non-existent, then no one’s moral values can be judged wrong. And when there is no Divine revelation, then we become our own god; the world operates by the religion of man and his politics, and we will be saved by secular values…. the path is wide that leads to destruction. That is why the modern Church is in danger of operating more on man’s traditions and thought than God’s Word.
     Sadly, we have removed the profound sense of mystery that is God and His supernatural characteristics, and reduced Him to just a slightly larger image of ourselves.  And we have allowed occultism, mysticism, magic, and the mysteries and worship of other gods to grow and replace YHWH’s once exalted position. We are embracing Christian yoga, for goodness sake!
     And because we Christians have not stood firm in the Word as our guiding principle, we have seen the breakdown of the family; our youth abandoning their faith in God, as well as confusion over their God-given sexual identities; and the shocking increase of perversion in our culture.  I fear that we are headed for a showdown — a confrontation between true Believers and those who profess a faith that has no foundation in Jesus.  This confrontation is already apparent in our society and it will soon split our Churches.  Greed, idolatry, and adultery with the culture is permeating the Body of Christ, and Jesus will no more allow His Church to succumb to such wickedness as He allowed the moneychangers to defile His Father’s House.
     It’s time the Church and the Body take a good hard look in the mirror. We have not been about our Father’s business and we are now in a battle for hearts and minds, and the destiny of millions of souls hangs in the balance. I sense that we will soon hear a voice from Heaven announce, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” I believe the Body of Christ in America is in for a big transition.  Will we become the kind of Bride Jesus is looking for? I, for one, will not be in agreement with the world; nor will I compromise with those in the Church who insist on taking the wide path. I’m ready for the battle that is to come, and I will not hide the Light that is in me under a bushel basket. I will expose the lies of satan and the unfruitful works of his darkness and death. And I will tell the Lost of the abundant Life available when we are in fellowship with Jesus. Let us join together to find our way once again; to recover our path to Jesus, and return this world to the Lord!

Proverbs 25:26   “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked”.

   
   

Don’t Go To Sleep Angry

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Have you ever heard someone tell you that the secret of a happy marriage is to never go to bed angry? It’s good advice. The logical addition to it is that you should stay up and fight – well, maybe not fight, but at least do something about it. Welcome to Day 22 of 30 Days to Forgiveness!

An argument just before bedtime is really a recipe for a rotten night’s sleep, which I’m sure you already know. If you go to sleep seething with anger or crying in frustration, your subconscious is going to have all sorts of unpleasant stuff to play with during your dreams.

Before going to sleep at night, forgive everyone for everything.

That’s easy to say, isn’t it?

Well, it’s the recipe for a great night’s sleep.

You will sleep better and your subconscious will be dialed into love and forgiveness. That will help strengthen your resolve and your new habit of forgiveness.

So just how do we go about doing this?

Here’s one little trick that we have at our home – there’s a list of topics that are never allowed to be discussed within the first or last hour of the morning. In other words, don’t get into politics, dig around on your ex’s Facebook page, make a snarky remark about how you’d pay less taxes if your spouse wouldn’t lose receipts (cough, cough, I promise to get more organized this year). It doesn’t mean you never talk about these things, but just not as the day is beginning or ending.

So what do you do as the day ends?

Before you go to bed, or while you’re lying there, waiting to go to sleep, think about your day and explore how you feel.

If you find yourself angry, or even annoyed about something, do what you can to make your peace with it.

Think about the positive aspects of what’s happened, or even in your life in general. It’s possible that what you’re angry about probably wasn’t as earth-shatteringly important as you initially thought. Do what you can to make your peace with it and find your joy and happiness before you go to sleep.

If you’re having a hard time letting go, try writing a letter about it. You aren’t going to sleep anyway, so get out of bed and grab some paper or open up your computer. Address your letter to the person you’re angry with and pour out your heart. You don’t have to actually send it or share it and in many cases you probably shouldn’t. In my experience, anything you write while furiously angry should be kept private!

The simple act of putting it all down on paper is often enough to lighten your burden. It will also help you let go of your anger and make your peace.

In the last post, I wrote about the three types of prayer. How would these work in a situation like this, when it’s time for bed and you are stomping mad?

Vocal prayer is probably the one where you’ll start. If you think you’re going to surprise God with your anger and desire for vengeance, guess again. Read Psalm 94 and realize that you probably have nothing on the fury and righteous indignation of the Psalmist!  David ends this angry prayer with a firm statement that God will destroy his enemies. Eeek!

Seriously, you won’t upset God with your emotions, not even if you’re angry at God. Trust me on this one – I am still blessed and loved by Him and there was a time in my life when I literally prayed “I hate you! When I die, I’m going to get to Heaven one way or another and KICK you! Stop wrecking my life.” (Okay, that’s another post all together, isn’t it?)

Vocal prayer can help you get those feelings out. Cry, scream, fall on your face – I’ve done all of these.

And then, once you’re ready for it, pull out Scripture that speaks to where you’re at and spend some time in meditative prayer. Focus on that and work on bringing your anger under control. As I said, work through the Psalms. Just make sure that you read the entire Psalm you’ve selected instead of settling in on the angry parts that are often found at the beginning.

If you’ve calmed your mind, you may be ready to spend some time quietly enjoying God’s love.

As I said, it’s not as though you were going to sleep anyway!

A few hours of restful sleep without those negative thoughts floating around in your head is better than eight hours of tossing and turning, seething and stewing. And that will set you up for a much better day when you wake up.

Give it a try and see if you don’t become a much happier and more pleasant person when you start to refuse to go to sleep angry.

Prayer Can Help You Forgive

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Prayer and meditation are used everywhere, in every culture. I know that I have some of my Christian readers who are going to panic at the thought of meditation. That’s a shame because the Bible actually mentions meditation almost two dozen times and we’re commanded to do it! Let’s explore what I mean – as a Christian – when I talk about prayer and meditation. Welcome to Day Twenty-One of 30 Days to Forgiveness!

Both prayer and meditation, especially when used together, can clear your mind and focus your thoughts. Those who make these a regular part of their lives have better health and more happiness. That’s very powerful, isn’t it?

When we pray and meditate, we can clear our heads and let go of anger and pain. That’s a huge part of learning to forgive. Starting your day with prayer and meditation puts you in the right frame of mind for your day, with peace and happiness at the forefront.

What is prayer? Well, there are three main types – vocal prayer, meditative prayer and contemplative prayer. They are all very important, and it’s unfortunate that most Christians are only aware of vocal prayer.

Vocal Prayer

A vocal prayer – and it does not actually have to be spoken aloud – is a conversation with God.

It can be a plea for help, or it can be a way to share what’s going on in your life. If you have ever read through the Psalms, you know that the Psalmists shared very strong emotions with God, sometimes raging and furious, sometimes frightened. I have heard it said many times that you can read through the Psalms to find the entire range of human emotions – all in songs of prayer.

A prayer can also be a formal recitation of words that you’ve known for a long time. The Lord’s Prayer is an extremely well known example. A formal prayer can be a great way to start your conversation with God about forgiveness. The familiar words and phrases will help you calm your mind and be open for the conversation.

All major world religions talk about forgiveness. It’s a core principle in almost all religious practices and you can find stories and prayers about forgiveness no matter what your faith. Find them and include them into your daily prayers.

Meditative and Contemplative Prayer

Meditative Prayer is not the same as Eastern Meditation!

In the Christian faith, Meditative Prayer usually means that we read a piece of Scripture several times, absorb the words, and then quietly sit and think about its meaning in our lives. If you are familiar with the Catholic use of the Rosary, this is a method of meditation. Catholics use this to meditate on the mysteries surrounding Jesus.

One way to use this in your forgiveness journey is to meditate on Bible verses where Jesus talks about loving our enemies and forgiving our brother seventy times seven times. (For the record, that’s the ancient equivalent of us saying to do it “a million times” – it meant to do it over and over and over again until past when you lose track!)

Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative Prayer is much more like what Eastern religions call meditation. It has a long history of use in Christianity.

This involves quieting the environment around you, blocking out all of the busy-ness and noise and thoughts in our minds and … well, the expression is “Let go and let God!”

When Christians enter contemplative prayer, we rest in the presence of God and wait to hear from Him. Contemplative prayer requires a quiet prayer room or other place where we can eliminate distractions. If your idea of prayer has always been vocal prayer, think of contemplative prayer as God telling you to just sit down and listen.

How often should you do these? Dare I say that all three need to be a regular part of your life?

All forms of prayer will calm your mind.

Vocal prayer is wonderful for working through and letting go of anger and resentment.

You can meditate on forgiveness and on loving those who have hurt you.

Contemplative prayer, or resting in the presence of God, can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure. If you have ever been seething with anger, you know that calming your body and your mind is the first step towards letting go of those negative feelings. Of course that’s probably the most insignificant outcome of regular contemplative prayer – and it’s still life-changing.

And you may well need to use all three methods of prayer in the same prayer session if you are really working on a difficult situation!

All types of prayer – vocal, meditative and contemplative – work best when you do them regularly. Make them part of your daily routine. I encourage you to keep all three forms of prayer in your life for the long run. Both your body and your mind will benefit from it.

Forgiveness Really Can Be A Daily Choice

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How is your journey to forgiveness coming? I hope you’re finding my semi-daily musings helpful, but more importantly, I hope you’re making progress. Welcome to Day Twenty of 30 Days to Forgiveness!

Forgiveness is a matter of habit, as strange as that might sound. You need to practice it daily and consciously for it to become an ingrained, habitual part of your life.

Embracing forgiveness isn’t always easy. It doesn’t come naturally to us and it takes a while to learn how to turn feelings of anger and resentment into those of love and peace. We’ve already discussed how this a process that takes time and how we need to work to form those emotional habits.

New habits are a funny thing.

Bad ones seem to appear out of nowhere, with that occasional bowl of ice cream in the evening turning into a big bowl every night. How did that happen?

But when it comes to forming healthy new habits, we must actively make it a daily choice.

Forgiveness is a matter of habit, as strange as that might sound. You need to practice it daily and consciously for it to become an ingrained, habitual part of your life. That means reminders – daily reminders, preferably early in the morning – that you are choosing forgiveness.

I love quotes, especially those that are done in what they call word art. Just as I surround myself with photos of my beautiful children throughout the years, I also surround myself with inspirational words and quotes. They are on the walls around my desk, on my laptop screen and even on my bedroom mirror.

Coming up with a personal mantra or affirmation can be another great tool. This could be a Bible verse or simply a statement that you are a loving and forgiving person. By getting in the habit of reciting it every morning, or even several times throughout the day, you can’t help but stay on track.

While I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, I do love music, and I choose to fill my playlist with songs that remind me of my values and choices. It’s easy to get distracted by the world’s negativity and to get tied up in it. I’m pretty careful about my musical choices, by the way. Not the type of music so much, but the lyrics. Music seems to cement words into our brains very effectively – quick, sing the ABC song – so what we listen to matters a lot.

As we talked about before, keeping a journal is another great daily exercise that will help you continue your journey of forgiveness. Knowing that you will be writing about your thoughts and experiences later on in the day will keep forgiveness front and center on your mind. Of course, journaling first thing in the morning is another great option and a good way to focus on your mind on this important endeavor.

No matter what tool, technique, or gimmick you use, make it a point to remind yourself to work on forgiveness daily until it becomes second nature. This 30 Day Challenge is of course another helpful tool. With daily email reminders (provided you signed up for email reminders, which I hope you did) and these blog posts, forgiveness will never be far from your thoughts.

A short little reminder is often all it takes to continue to make the daily choice to forgive and build a brighter future.

Forgiveness is a matter of habit, as strange as that might sound. You need to practice it daily and consciously for it to become an ingrained, habitual part of your life.

Opening A Dialog About Your Anger And Pain

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Humans are social creatures. We don’t do well in isolation and we do need to communicate. When we are hurt, confused or even very happy, it helps to talk over our strong emotions with someone else. Welcome to Day Nineteen of 30 Days to Forgiveness!

Venting can be a great way to let off a little steam and release some of your pressure. It gives you room for rational thought and more positive feelings.

Working through forgiveness is no different. Forgiveness is not an emotion, but working through the process does involve a lot of very strong emotions.

We’ve talked before about how important it is to be very clear about what you are forgiving and the pain that it has caused you. That’s easier said than done.

We have also talked a lot about the fact that forgiveness is a process. During that process, some days are going to be easier than others.

Let’s be very honest here. There are some days when forgiveness is the farthest thing from your mind. Some days you will look at your long list of blessings and shrug. Some days, from the time you open your eyes, are just plain bad days and you wonder why you bothered getting out of bed.

Let’s agree to forgive ourselves for having bad days, okay?

On those bad days, it’s really important to have someone with whom you can open up and talk. It could be a spouse or friend, a pastor or counselor, and it could even be someone in your community that you trust.

These days, with online communities forming, you might have someone you know online who can act as a sounding board. This is one of my blessings – I have several online friends that I trust and can open up to when I need help. Some of them will give me trusted spiritual counsel, some will offer that supportive and listening ear that is sometimes necessary. One friend provides the most wonderful Spock-like advice, completely logical and sound, and then there’s the one who lets me rant and holler and show my worst self. (As I’ve said before, don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m perfect!)

Words are powerful and being able to open up a dialogue about your anger and pain can be very powerful.

Venting can be a great way to let off a little steam and release some of your pressure. It gives you room for rational thought and more positive feelings. Keeping it all bottled up, pretending nothing is wrong, is rarely the best thing to do.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be the person who is ‘venting’ all over the place, complaining and growling to everyone you meet.

A kettle that is venting is working properly.

A kettle that is leaking all over the place is …. Well, it’s not.

If you’re still there, so attached to your grudges that folks are backing carefully away from the angry person, you might to spend a lottle more time with a pastor or a paid counselor and definitely more time with your journal and in prayer.

(What’s a lottle? It’s like a little … except a lot.)

And … sometimes you need to have a conversation with the person you need to forgive. If that person is your spouse or a family member, you most definitely need to talk with them.

When you do have these conversations, don’t forget to listen as much as you talk.

When we feel hurt, it’s hard to stay objective. Talking can help us realize that maybe we weren’t as slighted as we thought. A frank discussion in which both parties are committed to a positive outcome can clear up misunderstanding and provide us with information to look at the situation through another’s eyes.

They also help us sort through our emotions and thoughts.

Tomorrow we’ll talk a little more about daily habits!

Venting can be a great way to let off a little steam and release some of your pressure. It gives you room for rational thought and more positive feelings.

Jeremiah 7:2-4

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Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house and proclaim there this word
 and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 
“Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 
Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, 
the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

     I must admit something as I write this blog this morning … first, that Jeremiah is my favorite prophet because he seems so human; I can identify with him and his impatience with the stiff-necked people of Judah.  Like Jeremiah, I often harbor harsh criticism for those who are willing to accept the blessings of God while rejecting Him.  At the same time, I am filled with sadness for the reality of where they will spend eternity if they do not set aside their pride and worldliness in favor of surrendering all to God. I struggle with whether it is okay for me to be offended on behalf of Jesus.  But then I look at Jeremiah, and see myself.  
     In fact, in Jeremiah 7:2-4, I am seeing a situation that is being played out far too often in the affluent communities of America.  I have personally witnessed it, so I do not speak out of turn or about something that I know nothing of.  But I am offended when I see the wealthy in upscale communities vociferously competing for coveted spots for their children in Christian private schools.  Often, the efforts to place their children in these exclusive schools begins while the child is still in the womb! And it is not the desire for a Christian education that offends me, but rather the disinterest in knowing the Person upon whom the education is based.
     These parents are far too willing to set themselves (and their children) above what they consider a substandard education in the public schools, but they are equally consistent in denying faith [or any kind of relationship] in Jesus; He Who is the very foundation of the education their children are receiving. 
     But not all the blame can be laid at the feet of these defiant and rebellious parents.  Shame on the Churches and the Church schools who accept students whose parents do not support the Gospel of the Kingdom!  Is it all about the money that the parents pay that supports the Church organization [or should I say business]? Why isn’t the Church concerned that the home be [necessarily] a stronghold of Faith? Are these Churches aware of the Parable of the Sower and how the Word that was sown on stony hearts had no depth in which to nourish the seed, and it therefore did not take root?  Is it possible that this supposedly prized “Christian education” is more about the prestige and the status, than it is about Christ?
     I personally have heard Elitist unbelieving parents bragging about writing a letter of recommendation to help another unbelieving friend’s child gain entrance into their prestigious private school.  And my spirit saw Christ’s grief-stricken face as I fought to control my righteous indignation! Like Jeremiah, I wanted to shout for them to amend their blasphemous deeds and words.  I wanted them to know what an honor it was for their child to be taught the ways of Jesus, and I wanted them to truly know the Lord who died for them! 
     I wanted these parents to know what I think of those Church school officials who are so tolerant of disbelief [by accepting massive amounts of tuition money]. These parents are trusting in the [lying] words of those who tell them it is okay to continue to worship the gods of this world [money, status, privilege], and then give lip service to how wonderful it is their child is attending this Christian school. Their exclamations of “The School, the School, the School” is no different than the Jewish sinners shouting to God in His House, and  proclaiming “The temple, the Temple, the Temple”.
     Like Jeremiah, I am truly weary of this self-centered, egotistic, superficial, and self-seeking generation!  Why is Jesus and the Cross so offensive to these people who have everything?  They have no financial worries, no needs of any kind. Perhaps it is because nothing says you are a sinner more than the Cross, and no one says you are in need of a Savior, more than Jesus. He is a mirror that reflects our pride, our idolatry, and the darkness of our souls. And while I know that my indignation reflects what angers God, Himself, I need to be careful that my anger does not cause me to sin. So, for now, I will continue to bite my tongue. But I will never stop proclaiming my faith in Jesus — even when the looks of disgust surface, and the eyes roll, and the subject is quickly changed … And I will pray for their children; that they might bear fruit from hearing the Word and lead their parents to the knowledge of Jesus; a knowledge in which all the riches of this world pale in comparison.
      

Gratitude Can Help You Forgive

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My life is full of things for which I’m grateful. From my family to my wonderful new (and at the same time very old) house, a church fellowship where I am loved and accepted and of course the fact that I have a loyal and wonderful readership, there are many great people and things in my life. Welcome to Day Eighteen of 30 Days to Forgiveness.

As a brain cancer survivor, I can even include my life and the fact that I’m (relatively) healthy and well. All surgery has risks, and doctors are careful to inform you ahead of time, but before surgery I was warned that any outcome in which I was breathing would be considered a success. Nine years later I am doing far more than “just breathing”!

When we spend time taking note of everything for which we are grateful, and we consciously express that gratitude, our entire manner of thinking starts to shift.

If you take the time to think about it and make a list, I am sure that you will come up with many wonderful things for which you are grateful. One of the most popular Question of the Day topics on my Facebook page is when I ask people to name three things or people for which they are grateful.

And I will ask you – if you’re willing – to take a moment and tell us some of your gratitude list in the comments.

Too often we take these blessings for granted.

In our world today, gratitude sometimes seems to have become a lost art. People are focused on the negative, fixated on what’s happening next and very, very busy.

Too busy, as the old saying goes, to stop and smell the flowers.

There is much to be said for actively appreciating the positive and living in the present.

Here my readers nod and raise an eyebrow in confusion, wondering what in the world this has to do with forgiveness.

It all comes down to your frame of mind. You see, if you’re focused on negativity, busy-ness and complaining, fretting about what’s next and worrying about what you need or want or … any of that, really, you are not at all in the right mindset to practice forgiveness.

When we spend time taking note of everything for which we are grateful, and we consciously express that gratitude, our entire manner of thinking starts to shift.

It becomes much easier to appreciate what we have and focus on the positive in our lives. As a result, we find it easier to let go of negativity, and that includes the pain, anger and need for revenge that we may be feeling.

Have you ever noticed this in your life?

It’s one reason we confuse sadness, caused by events in our lives, with clinical depression.

What I mean is that, in the normal course of our days, good and bad things happen. When something good happens, it is normal to react with happiness. (And the flip side is true – it’s completely normal to feel sad when bad things happen. It’s just not normal to dwell on it forever.)

When we are happy and grateful, it’s harder to become down and depressed. It’s harder to be angry and we’re more likely to forgive and move on.

Of course if your brain patterns and chemistry have shifted and you are suffering from clinical depression, it will take more than happy thoughts to get you healthy again. Clinical depression is a serious thing and needs proper medical care.

Think of it this way – healthy eating and exercise may help prevent the onset of diabetes, but once you have developed it, more serious intervention is required. The same with depression.

But for the rest of us, those who are experiencing the normal range of emotions, responding with sad feelings when things go poorly and feeling happy when they go well, why not look at gratitude as another great tool in your forgiveness toolbox? Start using it in an intentional way.

One of the very simplest ways to get started is to count your blessings. When you wake in the morning and as you go to sleep at night, give thanks. Be specific! One of the things that I have taught my children is that, when they can think of no other words to pray, “Thank you, Father God” is always sufficient.

When we give thanks with a grateful heart, our mood improves and forgiving becomes easier. If we look at the grace and mercy that we have experienced in our lives, while still acknowledging that we, too, have caused pain and harm, it becomes much easier to extend that same grace and mercy to others.

It really doesn’t matter what your life looks like right now. If you stop and look for it, you will find a lot to be grateful for.

One moment in seared into my mind forever.

Remember how the surgeon told me that success would be any outcome in which I came out alive? That was a pretty low bar to meet – brain surgery is dangerous. In fact, since the tumour was sitting right between my parietal and occipital lobes, she said it would be a success if I came out alive but with no vision and an inability to communicate properly or remember things.

Cheery thoughts when going into surgery.

Anyway, what you might not know is that our life was very rough at the time. We rented a geared-to-income apartment and accessed the food bank about once a month. Not only that, we were struggling with some major legal – and obviously, health – issues. To say our life was rough is actually an understatement. It was during this time that Psalm 27 became my go to affirmation and I memorized it. “Though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident …”

And so, in the middle of all of this difficulty, I was diagnosed with a large astrocytoma (brain tumour) that was just starting to turn aggressive.

When I opened my eyes after the surgery, sleepy and sedated, my first thought was “I’m alive!” and then I drifted back to semi-consciousness. My next clear thought, which brought me very much awake, was

I’m alive and I can SEE!

That’s when I started bullying my poor nurse to let me get out of bed because there was a life to be lived.

With that said, my memory is terrible now and I’m very grateful for notes and lists and digital calendars! And if I ever tell you to put something down on “that … um … that flat thing where we eat”, or if I suggest that you put the leftovers in the dishwasher and take the laundry out of the freezer, please don’t laugh too hard. Yes, I sometimes forget every day words. And people I see often. And names. The list goes on.

I have become used to hearing ‘Oh, don’t you remember …?” because usually, no, I don’t.

Maybe your list is going to start with that. I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful for my vision. I am grateful for lists because my memory is awful! I’m grateful for people who love me even when I forget what a table is called. I am grateful for universal health care. I am so very grateful for Dr. Schneider and her team.

Dig down and have fun with it. Make a list as long as you can possibly make it. Write it out and stick on a wall where you can see it every day.

Give thanks with a grateful heart.

When we spend time taking note of everything for which we are grateful, and we consciously express that gratitude, our entire manner of thinking starts to shift.

Journaling Your Forgiveness Journey

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Do you journal? Have you thought about journaling as part of your forgiveness journey? Today I want to talk about this in a bit more detail. Welcome to Day Seventeen of 30 Days to Forgiveness.

One great tool as you move along the path to forgiveness is a journal. The format is far less important than the content, though.

There are many benefits to journaling. If you’ve kept a diary in the past, you might be familiar with them. If you have never tried it, why not start now? Just as when teenager girls spill their secrets to “Dear Diary”, a journal is always available and ready to listen as you pour out your thoughts and feelings.

A journal can be as simple or fancy as you like. You probably have everything you need.

You can use a simple notebook, one from that box or six that you bought when they were on sale for ten cents each so you bought enough to get all four … children … through … Was it just me? (My mother-in-law saw them recently and said, “Don’t you ever buy another notebook!” That IS the plan, actually!)

Or  you could look through your shelves for that beautiful blank book that you bought and never got past writing the first entry. If you don’t have any beautiful blank books, this is a great excuse to get one.

I am told that I have an addiction to beautiful blank books. Maybe …… There’s actually something about those high quality blank pages that just invite me to start writing. And it’s actually just a general love of books, from ten cents scribblers to leather-bound journals to ones that actually have words in them.

Let’s get back to the topic, though!

Your journal certainly does not need to be on paper.

Some people prefer keeping a digital diary. Open a Word document on your computer and start typing. Or turn on your phone’s video and talk, saving the file to your Dropbox. I’m sure there are some apps out there that can help you with your journaling.

For most of us, a journal is going to be a very private thing, so I don’t recommend that you use your tumblr, Facebook or Livejournal (do people still use that?) account.

But you can format it any way you like, so long as you find a way that works for you.

The most important aspect is going to be choosing something that’s easy and natural for you. If you spend your days typing and dread writing out anything by hand, you are probably not going to spend the time it takes to hand write a journal. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is. You’ll write one or two entries and then fall into the “Uh, I’ll do that later. Yea, later.”

If you struggle with the written word but really love to record vlogs (a vlog is a video log, just like a blog is a web log), then set up a place to save your videos privately and make a commitment to journaling that way every evening.

And if you really want to be wild and reckless, or if you decide it’s not working as well as you thought, change it up. Nothing says you can’t move from a written journal to a video one or the other way around. Your journal, your thoughts – pick the way that works best for you.

Much more important than the format, though, is the content. What you write down or record will help you process your thoughts and feelings, and it gives you a record that you can look at down the road. When you’re having a bad day or struggling to find thoughts of love and forgiveness, it can help to look back and see how far you’ve come.

A journal can help you clear your thoughts and see the path ahead. It can help remind you and focus your thoughts and feelings on why you need to embrace forgiveness.

If you’re not sure what to write about, start with a quote or Bible verse about forgiveness and then start writing your thoughts about it. There’s no right or wrong.

One great tool as you move along the path to forgiveness is a journal. The format is far less important than the content, though.

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!