Saturday, January 14, 2017

Where Truth is Grounded

1 Timothy 3:15 “...but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Satan’s main weapon against believers (indeed, his only weapon against us) is lies and deception. He is a master of propaganda, half-truths, and delusion. These are his fiery darts that Ephesians 6:16 speaks of. He shoots them from every direction. The world is monotonously pumping lies into our ears from social media, schools, TV, and the industries of news and music. Worldly friends unknowingly pick up those lies and continue to bombard us with them. And as if that weren’t enough, our own thoughts and emotions will betray us and amplify those lies…until...we just...accept true.
But just because something is believed - either by you or the majority of people - does not make it the truth. What is truth? Jesus makes the answer clear in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth.” It’s so simple, many believers have missed it - God’s Word is the truth! Psalm 119:160 further clarifies this point by saying, “The entirety of Your word is truth.” The Bible, in its completion, is the one and only truth. Your thoughts, conversations, entertainment, and education are only true to the extent that they agree with the Word.
If your enemy is going to get you to buy into a lie, he must first separate you from the truth of the Word. Here’s how his tactics generally work:
First, he’ll do everything he can to keep you out of the Word. He’ll make you too busy, give you more entertaining options for your time, or simply try to make you believe that it’s not that important to you. If he can keep you out of the Word, you'll have no defense when the lie is introduced.
Next, he’ll introduce a lie using one of his myriads of spokesmen. It may sound something like this, “It’s that time of year again; everywhere you go, people are getting sick.”
He’ll then try to influence your surroundings to get you focused on a circumstance that seems to support his lie. A simple tickle in the throat could lead to thoughts like “Oh no, I can’t get sick now! I just knew someone was going to give me their germs!
And then, he’ll even use someone close to you to confirm his lie. “Hey, are you ok? You don’t look so good!
What’s his end-game? His ultimate goal is to get his lie to come out of your mouth. If he can accomplish that - then he’s got you. Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
Is there an answer to these lies? Yes! Speak the Word of God!
The lie is “You must be coming down with something.”
The truth is “By His stripes, I am healed.”
The lie is “Those people don’t even like you!
The truth is “Jesus has broken down the wall of division, and made me accepted.”
The lie is “The Bible is just a book written by religious men, it doesn’t really apply to you.
The truth is “All Scripture was breathed from the mouth of God.”
The lie is “That woman can offer me more than my wife can.
The truth is “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, and always get caught up in her love!”
Now imagine this: Satan has just finished crafting one of his masterpieces. He then delivers this lie to his minions, who begin to introduce it into a believers life. They spend weeks keeping it in his ears, in front of his eyes, and in the back of his mind. They know if that believer buys into it, it could destroy him and everyone around him.
But one Sunday morning, when that believer sits down in church, the preacher delivers the truth from the pulpit and exposes the lie for what it is. Then as John 8:32 puts it, that truth makes him free. How frustrating that must be for the Father of Lies! And yet this happens, thousands of times over, every week! This is what your church should be, a pedestal (which is the actual term for word “pillar” in 1 Timothy 3:15) that the truth is set upon. Your church is where God intended to put His truth on display.

Now think carefully about the doctrine of “I don’t have to go to church - I’m saved and that’s enough.” Who benefits from a believer accepting that idea? Does that strengthen the Truth in your life, or separate you from it? Do the pages of Scripture support that teaching? Or is it possible that this idea is one more weapon in your enemy's arsenal?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Promise of Grace

Without grace, even the New Testament becomes the Law.” -Pastor Tracy Harris

Everyone knows about the ten commandments – these make up the foundation of what is called “The Law.” If you're not sure what they are, let's take a quick look:

Following these commandments bring righteousness and blessing on someone's life – disobeying them will bring condemnation and judgment. But we have already established this fact; no one can keep these commands. Ten simple rules to follow, and we've all failed miserably.

At least we're living in the New Testament, right? On this side of Calvary, God's grace has freely forgiven us for breaking His original commandments. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace...” (Ephesians 1:7). Now that we've been freely forgiven of all sin, there's no more commands for us to follow, right?

Actually, would you care to guess how many commands are in the New Testament? Ten? Twenty? One hundred? Would you believe that there are one thousand and fifty new commands for the Christian to follow? If we were lost with only ten to keep track of, we must be completely hopeless with more than a thousand! There's no way we could even remember all of those – let alone keep them! Doesn't this put a believer in a worse place than they were before?

That would certainly be true if we had to keep these commands by ourselves. But we don't have to do this alone; we've been given something that makes it all possible – grace! Let's look again at Hebrews 12:28, “...let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably...” We can only serve God by grace, not by trying.

When we try to obey God, we're depending on our flesh to do what's right. This is what Paul calls “the weakness of the Law in Romans 8:3. The reason the trying to keep the law never works is because your depending on your weak flesh to follow God's commands. But if you read the end of Romans 7, you'll discover that the flesh will never be able to follow God's commands.

This is why we need grace, to empower us to serve God and obey his commands. Look at what Paul says about grace in 2 Corinthians 12:9 My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Where the flesh is weak, God's grace brings power. The result of this empowering grace can be seen in Psalm 119:32 “I will run the course of Your commands, for You shall enlarge my heart.

When you try to obey God, you'll fail. But when you step into the spirit and have faith in God, you'll find sin losing it's grip on you! Let's take another look at Romans 8, this time at verses 2-9:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit...”

The only way to keep the righteous requirements of the law is to stay in the Spirit – by fully trusting in God's grace.

And what is it we trust in? Put your hope completely in this one truth: God has never given a command without also giving the power to keep it! Let's take a quick tour through scripture and illustrate this point:

When God commanded Moses to move forward – He gave the power to split the sea.
When God commanded Joshua to capture the Promise Land – He gave the power for victory.
When Jesus commanded the man with the withered hand to stretch it out – He gave the power to be healed.
When Jesus called Peter out on the sea – He gave the power to walk on the water.

Now look at Lazarus. If there was any man that was weak in the flesh, it was this one! He had been dead for four days – and Jesus commanded him to come out of the grave! Lazarus didn't have the strength to get up...he was dead! But what happened? The command carried the power to obey it! This is what grace does for us, it empowers us to obey the commands of God – any command.

This is the power of grace – Grace turns any command in scripture into the power to obey! As you read the words of scripture, remember this; any command you read is actually a promise to empower you to obey. Put your faith in God, and He will enlarge your heart to obey every word He says...This is the Promise of Grace!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Freedom of Grace

Galatians 3:3 “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect in the flesh?

The book of Galatians was written to a church that was being misled. Paul started this church himself. He taught them the Gospel, brought them into the faith, and raised up leadership in their congregation. These were people who understood salvation by grace through faith – they were genuinely born-again.

But after Paul left, new teachers (false teachers) came in that began to teach different doctrines – things that sounded good and even made sense. They declared that Paul's gospel of grace was a good start – but now that the Galatians were a part of God's covenant people, they had to conform to the law. In other words, they were being taught, “God did save you by grace, through faith. But now that you're saved, He expects you to get to work and keep His laws.” This makes sense, right? Shouldn't someone obey God's commands after they've been saved?

These Galatian brothers and sisters truly did have a heart for God. So when they heard that they needed to do more, they dug in and tried their hardest to make God happy. Unfortunately, there were disastrous consequences to their attempted obedience. Let's read Galatians 5, verses 19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murder, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Remember who Paul was talking to? This wasn't a wild group of sinners – it was a church that was doing their best, trying to obey God's commands! But no matter how hard they tried, these works of the flesh became more and more common. The false teachers used these manifestations of the flesh to prove their point: "See what you're doing? There needs to be some law and order here! Here's the rules - follow them!"

And right here is where we see truth that has plagued mankind since Eden: The more you try to obey, the more disobedience creeps in. Paul explains this paradox further in Romans 7 – a well-known passage to anyone who has struggled with sin.

Romans 7:15-21 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I want to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I don't want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for the want is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I want to do, I do not do; but the evil I don't want to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I don't want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

Can anyone relate to this struggle? How often have you been trapped in a sin – knowing that's it's wrong, hating it with every ounce of your spirit, and yet constantly going back to it? Does it ever seem like the harder you try to keep away from sin, the quicker you fall right back into it? If so, then I have amazing news for you – God never intended to leave you in this struggle!

You see, what the false teachers were telling the Galatian church – and what many believers are misled to think today – is that God saved them by grace, forgave their sin, and then said “Go try again. Good luck!” Too many Christians believe that Grace is about forgiveness and being let off the hook when you sin. It's like they believe that God knows that you're only human and there's no way for you to really be free from sin - so He gives grace to cover you when you inevitably mess up. But that is not what grace is about!

Colossians 2:6 tells us “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him...” Friend, how did you receive Jesus? It was by grace, through faith! So how are you supposed to walk in Him? By grace through faith! You weren't meant to be saved by grace, and then perfected by trying to do what's right. You see, God's grace isn't only the forgiveness of sins – it's the freedom from sin! Let me show you what I mean:

Hebrews 12:28 “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

Do you see? When you have faith in the grace of God, it will empower you to serve Him in an acceptable way! Grace isn't about what you can get away with - grace is the power to do what you can't do on your own! This is living by faith. This is walking in the spirit! And when you walk in the spirit (that is, when you put your faith in the grace of God, knowing that grace will empower you to do what's right), you WILL NOT fulfill the lusts of the flesh!

Galatians 5:16 “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

There is a way out of the sin that you're trapped in. There is a way to live a righteous life like you've always wanted. And that way isn't by trying to do what's right. When you try to obey God, you'll fail - we've proven that time and time again. No matter how hard you work at keeping God's commands, the result will always be the works of the flesh. But when you place your faith in God's empowering, glorious, amazing grace – it will break every trace of sin's power off of your life!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Of Daughters and Wolves

Acts 20:29 "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock."

In the symbolism of the Scriptures, wolves are worldly people that attack God's sheep. Many of them are worldly people attack the church from the outside. These are the ones that Jesus refers to when He told His disciples "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves." This kind of wolf is all around us, and they are blatantly obvious in their attacks on us.

Other wolves, though, are more subtle in their approach. Matthew 7:15 tells us that some wolves like to dress up in sheep clothes and infiltrate our flocks. These are the ones that Paul warns us about in Acts 20:29; they are wolves among us.

I go into great detail explaining these wolves in another post. I wanted to write this post to expose one particular breed of wolf - one that every parent and spiritual leader should be aware of. To get our first glimpse of this creature, let's look at Genesis 49.

Jacob was nearing the end of his life. Before he died, he gathered his twelve sons around him and prophesied over them about things to come. As he spoke about each young man, he pinpointed events in their future and the future of the tribes that would come from them. For example, Jacob declared that "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes..." This was a prophecy concerning the kings that would come from his son Judah, eventually leading to THE King Himself!

However, when he turned his attention to Benjamin, Jacob's words were less majestic...less promising. Look at what Genesis 49:27 says, "Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil." Yikes! Jacob was prophesying of a time when Benjamin would lie in wait for his prey like a wolf. Do we see such a time in Scripture?

Fast forward to the last chapter of the book of Judges.

Judges chapter 21 is the ending of a tragic story; a story that results in the death of all but 500 men from the entire tribe of Benjamin! Because of their wickedness, all other men, women and children were wiped out. To make matters worse, the rest of Israel angrily vowed to keep their daughters from marrying anyone in the tribe of Benjamin. This vow would've made those five hundred men the last of the entire tribe. When they died out, so would one-twelfth of the nation of Israel.

The other Israelites realized extinction wasn't the best option. In spite of the tribe of Benjamin's sin - it was decided that they should still survive. However, there was no way around the vow they made. No Israelite father was allowed to let their daughter marry an Benjamite - and for a Benjamite to get a wife that wasn't an Israelite was strictly forbidden by God. What could they do? Finally, someone came up with a shrewd way around this oath.

Here was the plan: There was going to be a holy festival at the Tabernacle of God in Shiloh. One of the festivities was a dance procession for all the young, unmarried ladies, where they would leave the city in a large dance of celebration. The elders of Israel told the Benjamites, "Go, lie in wait in the vineyards, and watch; and just when the daughters of Shiloh come out to perform their dances, then come out from the vineyards, and every man catch a wife for himself from the daughters of Shiloh; then go to the land of Benjamin." If any father objected to this kidnapping, the elders would calm them down. This way the tribe of Benjamin would survive, even though no father willingly gave their daughters away in marriage.

Notice three words from what the elders said: "lie in wait". These Benjamites hid in the celebration at God's house, waiting to pounce on the innocent girls there. Tell me, what does this sound like to you? A "wolf in sheep's clothing" perhaps

Among the different types of spiritual wolves, I believe there is one in particular that follow the Benjamite pattern. These men (yes, this is almost always a man who preys on a young woman) work to infiltrate the house of God. They learn the right words. They play the part of  godly men. But inwardly, they're panting after our girls. These guys are smooth when they speak to their prey, leading them away and isolating them. And when the time is right they pounce - either taking what they want from them and leaving, or leading these girls away from the flock to follow after themselves.

The end result is destruction. Some girls are hurt when they give part of themselves to someone who seemed to be a righteous man, but who simply ended up using them. Other girls are pulled out of the church and end up following these men into a life that's far less than what God wanted for them.

So how do we stop these spiritual predators? Is there a way to prevent, rather than repair, the damage these wolves cause?

First, to these young sheep: Get to know the voice of your Shepherd. In John 10:4-5, Jesus tells us this,
"And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." You see, once a sheep learns to recognize the voice of her Shepherd, she won't be so vulnerable to the sweet, silky-smooth voices of these strangers. So, it's crucial for you to learn what Jesus sounds like when He speaks to you. Get in the Word! Spend time in prayer. Get close to Him and follow Him only.

Second, to the shepherds: Guard your flock! Listen to the words of Paul to the Ephesian elders.
Acts 20:28-31 "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch... "

Paul laid the responsibility of guarding the flock on the leaders. Sheep don't fight off wolves...shepherds do. Let me tell you one thing I've learned about these wolves: In every case I've seen, the leaders in the girl's life (either her pastor, her father, or both) usually suspect something's wrong ahead of time. Every time, the leaders are left scratching their head wondering, "I knew something was wrong! Why didn't I do something?" Leaders, pay attention to the voice of the Holy Spirit! Don't wait to clean up the pieces - take action before the attack!

When we read Paul's words of warning, we can see a few things we can do to protect our sheep:
#1 - Take heed. In other words, pay attention to your flock. Keep your spiritual sense of discernment sharp and listen to what the Chief Shepherd is telling you.
#2 - Feed your sheep. Jeremiah 3:15 tells us that God appoints shepherds to feed the sheep with knowledge and understanding. Acts 20:30 tells us that the wolf's main weapon is twisted words. Put these together and you can see that a shepherd is responsible to feed their sheep the Truth - and that Truth will counteract any lies wolves may tell.
#3 - Watch. This term carries more meaning than simply "pay attention". This term implies "watching to defend." According to John 10:11-13, a good shepherd is one that is willing to confront a wolf to protect the flock if necessary. Hirelings (that is, those who care for the flock without ever really caring about them)won't bother to confront the wolf, being afraid for his own "reputation" and well-being. But listen to me, leader - this can't be us! When we (as fathers or as pastors) see a man leading one of our sheep away, separating her from the flock and isolating her, then we must confront him!

Jesus trusted us with part of His flock. Let's not take this responsibility lightly. Now that this breed of spiritual predator has been exposed, don't close your eyes to the threat!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Identity - Part 3

“I AM”

When we read through the Old Testament, we see the word “LORD” in all capital letters hundreds of times. When we see this, we need to understand that we're not merely talking about “the Lord” here. “LORD” is actually the respectful way to write God's sovereign name – without actually using it carelessly or casually. The actual word that we read “LORD” is “Yahweh”...sometimes said as “Jehovah.” This is the eternal, awe-inspiring name of almighty God – It is “I AM THAT I AM”! It's the name that God revealed to Moses from the burning bush, it's the name that Jewish people still refuse to write for respect – it's the name of the Great I AM!

Of course we already know that the name of Jesus has this name hidden inside of it – Jesus means “Yahweh Saves”. But did Jesus ever claim the name of Yahweh for Himself? Let's look and find out.
In Mark 14, we see the account of Jesus' trial before the Jewish leaders. Unable to find a single wrongdoing, they brought several false witnesses before the council. These men made some off-the-wall accusations against Him. The problem was, not one of these witnesses agreed with another. By law, the priests needed two witnesses to testify to the same accusation before they could condemn Jesus as guilty. Desperate for any grounds of conviction, the high priest then attempted to goad Jesus into condemning Himself.

In verse 60, the High Priest demanded, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against you?” In response to that question, Jesus said nothing. This must have outraged the High Priest even more! Who does this Man think He is to ignore the question? Finally, the priest asked a much more direct question - seen in verse 61 - “Are You the Christ (the Messiah) the Son of the Blessed?

To be sure, this was a loaded question – but there was no answer that would've made Jesus guilty. There were two parts to this question: One, are You the Messiah? Two, are You the Son of God? Saying yes to either of these questions wouldn't be wrong for any man to say

Everyone believed that the Messiah was going to be a man. Claiming to be the Messiah may have made a man crazy, but it wouldn't have been a crime. As far as being the Son of God; and any Jew could claim to be a son of God. In fact, the Pharisees themselves made this claim in John 8:41. If the high priest knew these claims weren't crimes in themselves, why ask the question? I believe he was fishing for something more substantial, something serious to accuse Jesus of...and he got that in Jesus' response. 

In verse 62, we read Jesus' answer to the priest's question: “I Am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” When Jesus said those two words - “I Am” - He wasn't merely giving a “yes” answer to the High Priest's question. He was claiming God's eternal, sacred name for Himself! He was calling Himself THE I AM! We know this is true based on the response of the council. Verse 63 tells us, “Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, 'What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?' And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.” Claiming to be the Messiah was not blasphemy. Yet these highly religious men heard blasphemy in Jesus' response...why? Because they knew what Jesus was actually saying! He wasn't saying "I am the Messiah." or "I am the Son of God." Jesus was clearly saying "I AM"!

This was not the only time Jesus made this claim about Himself. To see more, we need to move into the book of John. In John 8:24, we read these words from His own mouth, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” Notice that the word “He” is italicized. This means it was added by the translators, but it wasn't actually what Jesus said. What He said was “You have to believe that I AM, or you will die in your sins! What a statement to make about Himself!

But He wasn't done there...He claims this name for Himself two more times in the same dialogue! Verse 28 says, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” Verse 58 profoundly says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” We can clearly see that Jesus wasn't confused about Who He was, and He didn't shy away from saying so.

Perhaps the most powerful of Jesus' “I AM” claims came in the Garden of Gethsemane. As the Jewish soldiers arrived to arrest Him, they announced that they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth. In response, Jesus declared those two simple, earth-shaking words - “I AM” When He pronounced that powerful name, it dropped these men flat on their backs. Can you see this picture? Jesus, after stating Who He was, had to wait for the guards to get back up so that they could arrest Him! Even in His arrest, His power could not be hidden!

The Savior

Recently, the world spent a month (as they do every year) celebrating the birth of Jesus. During this time we talk about “the night of our dear Savior's birth” and the fact that “Jesus Christ our Savior was born to us this day”. Through the month of December, you'll hear Luke 2:11 quoted often. In this verse, we read the words of an angel to a group of shepherds, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior...” But what Americans hear in that verse is drastically different from what those shepherds heard!

Being Jews, these shepherds knew the scriptures. When they heard the word “Savior” they must have remembered the words of God in Isaiah 43:11, “I, even I, am Yahweh, and besides me there is no Savior.” Knowing this, these shepherds must have been overwhelmed by the angel's next statement, “Who is Christ the Lord.” Those words - “the Lord” - had to have resonated with these simple, God-fearing men. After all, Jews referred to God as “the Lord", since His name was too sacred to use. This angel just announced to these men that “the Lord” was just born to be their Savior!

In agreement with what the angel said, Paul also declares that our Savior is no one less than God Himself! In Titus 2:11-12 we read, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ...” Our God and our Savior are one and the same – Jesus Christ! This is also why Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:47, “The first man (Adam) was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man (Jesus) is the Lord from heaven.” This Lord from Heaven, the one who came to be our Savior, is the same one that the angel called "Christ the Lord."

After the angel announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds, we read that a multitude of heavenly hosts joined that angel in the sky and praised God, saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Just how many angels were in the sky that night? Hebrews 1 :6 tells us: “But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: 'Let all the angels of God worship Him.'” That night every angel in Heaven appeared in the sky over Bethlehem to praise God. It's amazing to me that only the shepherds saw this! And how did this multitude of angels praise God? By worshiping the Son!

The Incarnate Word

John chapter one tells us more about what happened that night in Bethlehem. Let's take a close look, starting in verses 1 and 2 
In the beginning was the Word... – So God's Word was already there in the beginning. The Word had no beginning, there was never a time when the Word wasn't!
...and the Word was with God.. - The literal meaning is that the Word was face-to-face with God. Now we see that the Word wasn't merely a thing, but it had a face (It's own face) and was together with God.
...and the Word was God. - Uh oh, this is where Christians are separated from every other world religion. The Word - Who was a person that was face-to-face with God – was also God Himself!
He was in the beginning with God. - Another look at the person-hood of the Word. The Word was a “He”. 

Now let's move on and read verse 10, “He was in the world...” - Now we see that this Word/Person who was God, was personally in the world.
...and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. – If the world was made through the Word, then why didn't it know Him when He was in it? Why didn't they know their Creator?

The answer is found in verse 14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us...” - Now we see why they didn't know Him, because He became flesh. This Word/Person Who was God became a flesh and blood man! What an amazing concept, God became a man!

Lastly, let's look at verse 17 so find the identity of the Word, “For the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The Word made flesh is Jesus Christ! This is the incredible meaning of what happened in Bethlehem - God humbled Himself to be born as a baby!

The Form of God, The Appearance of a Man

In our last look at Jesus' incarnation, let's go to Philippians 2:6-7. This passage of Scripture should be added to our list of Christmas time traditions – this is, after all, the true meaning of what we celebrate. 

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God... - Jesus knew that calling Himself God wasn't taking anything away from the Father. He and the Father were one, so to exalt the Son is to exalt God – we don't rob our Heavenly Father when we put the Son on equal footing. Why? Because there is only one God, and He is Jesus! 

...but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. - Do you see this? Jesus was God first and then became a man. This runs contrary to the cult of Mormonism, which says that He was a man first and then became a god. Jesus was the Word that was God and took on the form of a flesh-and-blood servant.

We'll look at the rest of this passage later on, because there is so much more to Jesus' divinity in the next few verses. Let's end this section with one last quotation by Paul, from 1 Timothy 3:16. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” Jesus, the Man Who was born in Bethlehem, was the direct manifestation of the eternal God. He was the flesh-and-blood expression of God's own nature!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"I Wish I Had A Testimony!"

Revelation 12:11 “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony...”

Let me be clear about this...I believe that every person must be born again. No matter what walk of life you come from, no matter what religion you follow, no matter how hard you try to be a good person; you must be born again. Even if you were born into a Christian house and to godly parents – you were still born into a sin nature that will drag you to Hell. The only answer to the life we're all born into is to confess Jesus as Lord and be born into His new life. So whatever I'm about to say in the next paragraphs, don't think that I'm diminishing the importance of a genuine encounter with Jesus.
I was one of those kids who was raised in a believing home. I learned at an early age, along with my brothers and sisters, to love God and follow His leading. And while there have been many (many, many, many....) times that I fell into sin and did the wrong things, I always knew Who to turn to in repentance.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus is Lord. He is my Savior Who gave His life to set me free. He died to pay my debt of sin and then He rose again, breaking the power that sin had over me. According to Romans 10:9-10, this confession of faith is what ushers people into this new life in Christ. So, regardless of what you're about to read, you'll never be able to convince me that I'm not born again because my experience is different than yours. As you read this, I hope you'll see that, while the process of salvation must be the same, the experiences of salvation will be as different as one person is from another.
Why do I say this? Because there's always been something bothering me, like a cloud over my head. You see, there have been many times I've declared Jesus as Lord of my've just read one of them. Many times I've considered how amazing it is that Jesus gave His life for me and then rose from the dead by the power of God. But if you were to ask me, I couldn't tell you when I did this for the first time.
Like so many kids who were raised in church, I listened to many different speakers telling their amazing testimonies of salvation. I was fascinated by the incredible stories of dramatic and miraculous rescues from lives of sin. Inevitably, one of them would say something like, “I wonder about people who can't tell me when they gave their life to Jesus.” Later on, after hearing something like that, I would wonder why I didn't have a “spiritual birthday” like those speakers. Sometimes I would say a prayer and confess Him as Lord...just to be safe. But I wouldn't really consider that a testimony, right?
Are there any other “church kids” who can relate to this? How many people are there who have a genuine relationship with Jesus – a relationship that formed while they were still very young – and couldn't tell you exactly when this relationship started? If we overcome our enemy by the “word of our testimony” - shouldn't we have a testimony to tell?
This really bothered me up until a few weeks ago. But then God ever so sweetly revealed something to me. And it all started with a verse that we all know – Psalm 118:24 “This is the day that the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” This verse has been well known to American Christians. It's been used often for inspiration during rough days– as if it meant “today is the day that the LORD has made”. But a closer look at this verse shows us that it means so much more that what we've been using it for. Let's look at this verse in context and find out what it's really saying:
Psalm 118: 22-24 “
The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes, this is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
There you see it. The day we rejoice in is the day that the stone was rejected. According to Acts 4:10-11, that day was the day that the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus and had Him crucified. We don't rejoice in just any day – we don't even rejoice in the day we first confessed Him as Lord! We rejoice in the day He gave His life to save ours!
You and I don't have different “spiritual birthdays”. We rejoice in the same day, the day Jesus saved us! According to 2 Corinthians 6:2, we are living in the “day of salvation” that began when Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. When we confessed Jesus as our Lord and believed that He rose from the dead, we entered (or were born) into our common salvation. And we all have this one testimony, “Jesus saved me from my life of sin and my future in Hell!”
This salvation experience can happen in a dramatic, night-to-day event – like Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. Or it could take place at an incredibly young age and unfold throughout a lifetime – like it did in Paul's disciple, Timothy. Timothy had a testimony like many “church kids” have today. His faith was instilled in him by previous generations. His grandmother and his mother together raised him to serve God, and He never left it while growing up. Scripturally speaking, Timothy still must have been born again. But there was no mention of his conversion anywhere in scripture. It's possible that Timothy may not have even remembered life before his salvation, or the moment when he received Jesus as Lord!
In spite of the differences between Paul and Timothy's salvation experiences, they had the same testimony...Jesus saved them both on the day He died for their sins! This is the same testimony you and I have too. This is the testimony that overcomes every enemy. This is the testimony of our salvation. It's the testimony of the day that we were saved...the day that Jesus rescued us from the cross! Let's stop comparing the story of our entrance into this salvation with other peoples'! If you have confessed Jesus as Lord and have entered into this new life with me – then let's celebrate the day we were all born again!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Identity - Part 2

As we have already seen, the very first two chapters of the New Testament are clear about Jesus' true nature. He is God – no question about it! That's what the angel told Joseph, that's what Micah prophesied about the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem, and that's why the Magi fell down and worshiped him. But there's so much more support for this. The incredible truth that God became a man is the central theme – not just of the New Testament, but of the entire Bible!

The Messenger

Before Jesus began His ministry here on earth, someone had to come first. We know that man as John the Baptist. “Baptist” of course is a description of what he did – baptizing the people into repentance. His job was to turn the people's heart to God's way of doing things...and he did this by preaching repentance.
Jesus had this to say about Jon in Matthew 11:10 “For this is he of whom it is written; 'Behold I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.'” Jesus tells us that John was a fulfillment of a prophecy made hundreds of years earlier – by a man named Malachi.
For further clarification, let's read Malachi's prophecy in Malachi 3:1 Behold, I send My messenger and he will prepare the way before Me. When Jesus quotes this in Matthew, He tells us that God sent a messenger to prepare “Your way before You” - meaning this applied to the Messiah. And yet, when we read the original prophecy, Yahweh is sending the messenger before Himself. So just who was John preparing the world for? The next sentence in Malachi 3:1 tells us...”And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple.” John came to prepare the way of Jesus – but then Malachi says that the one coming after the messenger is the One that the temple was built for! Just Who was this One to come?
Mark gives us a little more information on the messenger, John. Let's read Mark 1:2-3 - As it is written in the prophets: “Behold I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” - “The voice of one crying in the wilderness; 'Prepare the way of Yahweh; make His paths straight.'” Now we see that there was more than one prophet that spoke of John. Mark's first quotation was what we just read from Malachi – but His second was from the prophet Isaiah. Like Malachi, Isaiah is clear that the messenger would be preparing the way for God Himself.
This is the complete passage from Isaiah 40:3-5 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of Yahweh; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Now we see that John came to prepare the way of God, and after his ministry ran its course, the glory of God Himself would be revealed to humanity. Let me ask you a question, what happened as John's ministry was winding down? Jesus began His ministry and the glory of God was revealed!
What am I saying here? That John was the messenger that was sent to prepare the way of God Himself. We learned already that Jesus was God Himself in the body of human. After John fulfilled his calling – Jesus began to reveal His glory – the glory of Yahweh – to “all flesh”.

To Clarify the Confusion

We see then that John knew who he was – the messenger of Yahweh. This also means he knew Who Jesus really was – after all, it was John who pointed Jesus out first!
Later on though, John began to have doubts. While he was in Herod's prison, it seems as if John began to feel sorry for Himself. He knew what his calling was, but now it appeared as if nothing he expected to see from Jesus was happening. So a downcast John sent two of his remaining disciples to ask Jesus point blank: “Are you the one we are expecting, or should we start our search all over again?”
In response to John's question, Jesus didn't spend any time explaining Himself or trying to reassure John's doubts. Instead, Jesus simply told the messengers to watch for a while. Later we read in Matthew 11:4-6 Jesus answered and said to them, 'Go and tell John the things which you hear and see; the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.'” Jesus' reply to John was to focus his attention on the signs that He was working.
But there was more to Jesus' signs that merely observing the miraculous. Jesus was referring John to what the Jews called “the signs of the Messiah” in Isaiah 35:5-6. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing..” This list of miracles were known to be the signs of the Messiah's coming...and Jesus referred to it as a reminder of what John already knew.
But there is so much more to Isaiah's prophecy than this. Isaiah wasn't just telling us how we would recognize the Messiah, He told us the Messiah's true identity. Look at verse 4, the the previous verse, “Say to those who are fearful-hearted, 'Be strong, do not fear! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.'” You see? Jesus – the one named “Yahweh saves” - is called God in this verse! This is what Jesus was reminding John of!

On Who's Authority?

In Jeremiah 23, God calls out a group of false prophets – those who were prophesying without being sent by God. Using no uncertain terms, He declares in verse 16 that these false prophets were making God's people worthless! What made these prophets false? The answer is in verse 21, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.” These preachers were false prophets because God didn't send them. 
In fact, throughout the book of Jeremiah, God alone had the authority to send prophets. Just look at these passages:
Jeremiah 7:25
Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them.
Jeremiah 25:4
And Yahweh has sent to you all His servants the prophets, rising early and sending them...
Jeremiah 26:5 heed the words of My servants the prophets whom I sent to you...
Jeremiah 29:19
...because they have not heeded My words, says Yahweh, which I sent to them by My servants the prophet. 
In the Old Testament, if anyone took it upon themselves to prophesy in God's name – without being sent by God – they were considered a false prophet and executed for their lies. The point is simple, Yahweh alone had the authority to send a prophet!
And yet, look at what Jesus claimed for Himself in Matthew 23:34: “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes...” In light of what His listeners knew about prophets, they must have been wondering “Who does this Man think He is?” Because He is God, Jesus does have the authority to send out prophets – and apostles, and evangelists, and pastor/teachers. (As a side note – even in the New Covenant, no one should dare to assume a ministry gift for himself. It is still true that God alone has the authority to send out minsters on His behalf!)
God is the ultimate authority. When He says anything, that's the end of the discussion. His Word is true, and will remain true forever. In Isaiah 40:8 we read, “ The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” His Word is the only eternal and unchangeable word – no one else's word even comes close! And yet we read twice (once in Matthew 24:35 and again in Luke 21:33) that Jesus made this claim - “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
What gave Jesus – a man – the right to take on Himself the same authority that God alone possesses? The claim to have an unchanging word, the authority to send out prophets - no mere human teacher would be right to take this on Himself. Jesus knew Who He was! What's more, He made it clear to us...Jesus is God!