Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas Jesus My Lord!

 Luke 2: 25-45 NLT
25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
 29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
      as you have promised.
 30 I have seen your salvation,
    31 which you have prepared for all people.
 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
      and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
 33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Springs of Living Water is taking a Christmas and New Year break. We will resume posting and emailing devotionals after January 3, 2011.  I want to wish you a Merry Christmas, and thank you for allowing me to serve you in this devotional message this past year. Join me, too in wishing Merry Christmas to our Lord Jesus Christ. Pray and wish Him a 'happy birthday' if you wish also. Simeon, in the temple, when the Lord was but 8-days old in his humanity, was standing ready to recognize Him and praise Him. He saw in this tiny newborn the fulfillment of God's prophesies across the previous six thousand years. He recognized that the solution for sin in mankind was there in his hands. Though looking at a tiny baby, Simeon saw the crucified Lord as we can see in verse 34-34.

We can't be sure of what all Simeon meant other than what his words actually say,  for we never hear of Simeon again in Scripture or in history. Chances are, as he prayed, the Lord took him to his reward shortly thereafter. As Simeon praised God for sending the baby-to-be-redeemer, so can we praise Him for sending our resurrected-crucified-messiah-baby in such a way that everyone in the world of all time could relate to Him. You can relate to Him. He is there for you now. Let's share this greatest of gifts, during this season of gift giving.

In Christ's love

Friday, December 17, 2010

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

John 1:1      In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. 
    6  God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 
   10  He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

Like Mark, John, also began his Gospel story at the beginning of Christ's adult ministry through the three years to his Crucifixion, resurrection and Ascension. The nativity narrative that we celebrate as Christmas, is subsumed in the general statement about the entire Old Testament era from creation forward to Christ's coming with verses 1 through 5. The major points of creation are covered: Creation, Fall, and Redemption. The person of the the Trinity called The Son, was also named The Word. With this description so compact in its theology, John clarifies how God, became human, but was nevertheless always God as well. It clarifies how Christ, or "The Word" 'already existed prior to the beginning. It clarifies how He was the force of creating all that was made. And, it sets the stage for the rest of John's Gospel to describe how this all powerful Word, submitted Himself to becoming human, and to suffering under the rejection and torture by humanity that He had, Himself created! 

Next, John's nativity story is the coming of The Baptist as one called to bring a witness to The Light. Jesus was 'The Light." John merely points Him out to humanity as the announcer. So, this Gospel presents Christ, Jesus as The Word, as God, as The Light of God, as The Redeemer, and the One through whom we become reborn into a new Holy Nature that is in the likeness of God.  The several wonderful points packed into the Apostle John's narrative's first 13 verses, are worthy of careful reflection today. I encourage us all to think about each verse and then offer a prayer of praise to God for what He has done for us through Christ the Lord and Savior.

Make this part of your Christmas remembering along with the traditional visions of the baby, the manger, the star, the shepherds, angels, and Magi. Keep Christ the Lord, your Redeemer at the very center of your Christmas thinking and praying.

Your servant in Christ's love

Thursday, December 16, 2010

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

Mark 1:1 This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began
Mark 1:2 just as the prophet Isaiah had written:
     “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
         and he will prepare your way.
Mark 1:3      He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
     ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming!
         Clear the road for him!’”
Mark 1:4  ¶ This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.
Mark 1:5 All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.
Mark 1:6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.
Mark 1:7  ¶ John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals.
Mark 1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

The Gospel Writer Mark does not cover the birth of Christ but picks up the begging of Christ's story by announcing His purpose-- Good news about Jesus the Messiah.  For Mark the story begins at the point where the adult Jesus starts his public ministry, foreshadowed by John the Baptist-- his cousin and herald. Both shared the same birth narrative story-- John with the elderly couple, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Jesus with the virgin mother and both announced by the same angel. Both had a single purpose-- John to announce the Messiah coming and Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus, as King, would have a herald go before him making an awareness among people to be ready to receive the King's words. Both John and Jesus fulfilled prophesy. Both demonstrated a power from God to live outside of self-will and to do the will of The Father instead.

We tend to get caught up in our gift giving and Christmas listing these days. We are filling stockings and wrapping boxes, checking off lists for others and answering the endless quarries of 'what do you want for Christmas' Our North American Christmas tradition is pretty commercial. Our political leaders worry that our business communities will not  make their annual Christmas season sales targets. The only reason they do not give in to the pressure from the people like the ACLU who want to completely eradicate Christmas from human memory, is that the season is good for business. If we could keep Santa and loose the Messiah all would be happy. But the season is not about Santa. It is about the birth of the Messiah-- the one who came to remove the sins of the world and redeem humans from their deserved consequences,

John's prophesy was that the Lord would baptize us with the Holy Spirit. He used the symbol of baptism to represent washing away the old, cleansing from within, and arising to walk in new life. That is what being washed in the Holy Spirit does for us. And it results from our faith, believing in Christ-- that He came from God, to do what He said He came to do-- save us from our sins. That is the work God wants us all to do-- to believe. And, if we believe then He wants us to be equipped by His Spirit to live like we believe it.

Don't you wonder now how we can make Christmas more about The Christ and less about the shopping? I do.

Your servant in Christ's love

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Evil King vs the Good King

Matt. 2:13-23 NLT  
  13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 
  14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” 
  16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. 17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 
  18 “A cry was heard in Ramah— weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted,  for they are dead.” 
  19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” 
  21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. 22 But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. 23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

The duel between good and evil continues across the ages but it caught the baby Christ child squarely in the cross-hairs of the enemy's sights. We might think we live in evil times, but one has got to admit, in a culture where a King could simply command his soldiers to murder all infants in a village of his subjects, and they would do it-- that is certainly a more evil culture. No one spoke up, no one had enough authority to stop them. But God worked His plan and the Christ Child was not killed by the agents of the murderous king.

Joseph is instructed in another angelic dream to move from there to Egypt. Later, the evil king dies and the dream-angel instructs Joseph to move back to Israel. The plan takes them to Nazareth, where Christ grew up and fulfilled even more ancient prophesy about the Messiah.  Herod would stop at nothing to protect his throne and in the end that is what he got-- nothing!  Christ sacrificed everything to become our Redeemer and in the end, He received EVERYTHING.  God's plan will happen, evil cannot stop it. You cannot stop it. The liberals in our society cannot stop it. Bad governments cannot stop it. The plan is in motion. The good news calls you and me into becoming a party to and part of this plan of God through the end of the ages and into eternity. Just as the ancient part of the plan was fulfilled, so will the part in the present and future.

Why not make this the Christmas when you discover total and limitless commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ? Why not discover the joy of the Holy Spirit's total and ongoing filling by emptying yourself of yourself? What have you got to lose? Look at all you have to gain!

Your servant in Christ's love

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Where is the. . . king?. . .we have come to worship him.”

Matt. 2:1-11 NLT
  1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,  2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 
  3  King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.  4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” 
  5   “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: 6  ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,  are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,  for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” 
   Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” 
  9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

We saw the Christmas story through the eyes of the Gospel Writer Luke, who researched it from the memories of Mary and the Disciples. Here we have the story from the Jewish tax-collector turned Disciple of Christ, Matthew. His account contains details that the Gentile writer Luke leaves out. The story of the wise men from Babylon is included. Jews had a history with Babylon-- a love-hate relationship with it. Though their ancestors had been taken captive, they had also moved into leadership within the empire and had great influence on its educational system. It is reasonable to connect these first century scholars from there as having been influenced by their education's Hebrew roots so they were aware of the prophesy of the coming King and Messiah.  How sad it is was that Gentiles endured years of hardship searching for the humble birth of the King, while to His own people it went barely noticed by only the poorest of the poor. But the Magi came bringing gifts and worshiping. They departed worshiping as well. Doubtless their rich gifts supported this young family for many years thereafter through the hardships that another was plotting.

The antithesis of the faithful Magi was Herod. As soon as he inadvertently became aware of a 'king' born in the humble village of Bethlehem, he, too was interested. But his interest was evil. He intended harm and we shall look more deeply into that tomorrow. But the Magi traveled thousands of miles simply to worship, leave their gifts of faith, and return in their way homeward rejoicing that they were privileged among human kind to witness the infant king of the universe. We hear nothing more about them in history, but one has to realize that throughout the disbelieving world, God has his faithful ones that few will ever recognize or anticipate. It does not matter that the world fails to recognize us for our faith-- God recognizes it. God grants it to us. God blesses us. And when we have obeyed the tasks God has placed into our own hands, as well as we might, then we, too, can go our way rejoicing in the Holy Spirit that we were permitted to play some role in the greater plans of God.

Have you been faithful? Then rejoice today for what He has allowed you to do, whether you know the ultimate outcome or not. It matters not that we know outcomes, only that we know we have been allowed and empowered to be faithful.

Your servant in His love

Monday, December 13, 2010

What authority and power this man’s words possess!

Luke 4:33-44 NLT  
   Once when he was in the synagogue, a man possessed by a demon—an evil spirit—began shouting at Jesus, 34 “Go away! Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 
   35 Jesus cut him short. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. At that, the demon threw the man to the floor as the crowd watched; then it came out of him without hurting him further. 
   36 Amazed, the people exclaimed, “What authority and power this man’s words possess! Even evil spirits obey him, and they flee at his command!” 37 The news about Jesus spread through every village in the entire region. 
   38 After leaving the synagogue that day, Jesus went to Simon’s home, where he found Simon’s mother-in-law very sick with a high fever. “Please heal her,” everyone begged. 39 Standing at her bedside, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. And she got up at once and prepared a meal for them. 
   40 As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus. No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one. 41 Many were possessed by demons; and the demons came out at his command, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But because they knew he was the Messiah, he rebuked them and refused to let them speak. 
   42 Early the next morning Jesus went out to an isolated place. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. 43 But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” 44 So he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea.

At his trial and execution, Jesus' detractors kept demanding evidence. Yet he had provided evidence and the testimony of those who saw for the previous three years was widely known. Many had seen the fruit of his powers. That they were beyond normal human powers no one could deny. They had witnessed him speak vision into blind eyes, hearing into deaf ears, activity into paralyzed legs, and life into lifeless bodies. They had witnessed him producing food for thousands from food for an individual. Everyone was talking about it. But those who would ask Jesus for proof wanted none, really, they merely wanted to eliminate him from their way. Little did they know they were fulfilling the prophesy of the ages about the Messiah, the Lamb of sacrifice for mankind's sin.

Before this, Jesus had a mission. He could have spent a comfortable lifetime healing and providing for those in his home region and becoming acclaimed as King. He could have raised armies and defeated political oppressors. But he had a bigger mission. Jesus was not to be deterred from the mission God called Him to. It was to preach the good news until the human leaders could stand no more of it and would either repent themselves or fulfill prophesy and kill Him. Jesus knew what would happen, he had studied the scriptures and he had the knowledge of the will of God in his mind.

Are we as focused upon the mission that Jesus has given us to do? Are we living in His will, His purposes, His strength, and walking His paths? If not, why not?

Your servant in Christ's love

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Year of the Lord's Favor!

Luke 4:14-19 NLT  
  14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 
  16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.  17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: 
  18 “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,  for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,  that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”

Coming right of a month and a half without food or water, and then a galactic level supernatural challenge by the chief enemy of God, Jesus goes home and to a house of the Lord to teach people. He selects a passage from Isaiah 61. This passage announced the coming of God's Son, the Messiah who would take away the sins of the world. In his application message there was no mistaking what he was saying. He dared to introduce himself as the one promised by this passage.  Now, he was not without proof. He was already known for several super natural events that no one could explain and was known for speaking up on behalf of the under privileged and powerless. Since his birth he had fulfilled scripture, right in front of everyone's eyes and few noticed.  When he dared to point this out directly, the result was a mob scene, attempting to harm him. But they could not. It was not time for that to happen so they were powerless to bring their rage to harm him. That would not happen until HE permitted it. Now he was about introducing them to God's favor. Their definition of such favor, was different, apparently, than what God had in mind. God's favor is to send a messiah, a sacrificial lamb to carry all our burdens and cleans us from our sins and sin condition. But fallen humanity has a different definition of 'favor' from God. And, it usually had much to do with individuals getting their own way over everyone else. To us that seems like favor but God has a much higher plan in mind when HE shows favor.

Have you experienced the true favor of God as yet? You can right now if you wish to.

Your servant in Christ's love

Friday, December 10, 2010

Worship the LORD your God and serve only him

Luke 4:1-13 NLT    
  1 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. 
   3 Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 
   4  But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”
   5  Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.  6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” 
   8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,  ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’”
   9  Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. 11 And they will hold you up with their hands  so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” 
   12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the LORD your God.’”
   13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.

You and I might think that Satan and his forces give us hard temptations but this was horrendous. First, Jesus willingly does not eat for a month and a half. Remember that the next time you have to miss a lunch or a dinner! That long without food and water can make one lose cognitive function and ability to exert will over decisions. Yet Jesus was clear-headed in his battle.  From this I can take comfort that Jesus will keep me clear headed as well when I must endure such battles with God's enemy, just as God kept Jesus clear headed. The battle belongs to The Lord and He is the one who will provide us the resources we need to engage within it.

Jesus was God, was in the beginning with God according to John 1. Jesus created all that God willed to have created, so Jesus was Satan's creator. Yet here that creation has the arrogance to try to mislead its creator. He threw his wildest misleads to Jesus but none worked. Make rocks into bread? No need. God will provide what His servants need, and they need His presence more than mere bread or food.

Satan will give to Jesus all the people of the earth if Jesus would only worship him who is God's enemy? A lie for Satan does not have those people to give-- they are free agents and can choose God. If they do not, they, with Satan will be tormented eternally. Worship is reserved for God alone. Only Christ had the means to turn people from Satan's ways and that was why He came.

Jump off the tallest building to prove he was supernatural? A fools task because even that would not change people's minds. Their redemption had to be paid regardless and His primary purpose was just to do that.

Satan left, and will leave us, too, when we resist him with the power of God's Holy Spirit present within us. You can count on that today!
Your servant in Christ's love

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down. . .

Luke 3:3-14 NLT 
   3 Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 4 Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,  “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming!  Clear the road for him! 5 The valleys will be filled, and the mountains and hills made level. The curves will be straightened, and the rough places made smooth. 6 And then all people will see the salvation sent from God.’” 
   7  When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? 8 Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 9 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” 
  10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?” 
  11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” 
  12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” 
  13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.” 
  14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers. John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”

When the Messiah came the first time, He had an announcer ahead of him, kind of an 'advance man' setting the stage for recognition that we all possess sin. John's job was to present a very simple message. That message was to stop sinning. In order to stop sinning, one must first recognize that the self-centered way one is living in is in opposition to God's will. And, anything in opposition to the will of God is sin. Christ came and fulfilled his mission-- to become the sacrifice for our sins.

Even religious leaders were not spared John's abrupt and straight forward commands. They were caught up in their religiosity and convinced that gave them a holy state better than anyone else. Their arrogance was the sheer evidence of their own sin and they failed to repent.  But others did repent and wait for The Christ to be revealed to them.

Today, in 2010, the fact is that Christ was revealed to the world and there are lots of reasons to believe in Him. The faith that many have, is proof for them. Faith does not need miracles to prove it. Faith is just that-- faith. And we have among us men and women like those early religious leaders who are yet facing the 'ax of God's judgment' mentioned in verse 9, because they refuse to trust in simple faith and, instead rely on their deeds and religious preparations to save them. They view themselves as a cut above the normal Christian rather than the servant of all that Jesus wants us to be.  Notice, John did not tell anyone who asked, to quit doing their daily activities. He merely told them to do it in God honoring ways, honest ways, truthful ways, rather than self-serving ways. The rest of the Good news is that we CAN do that, now that the power of God's Holy Spirit comes to live in us through faith in Christ Jesus as LORD.

Make this clear to someone this Christmas season and watch their joy grow!

Your servant in Christ's love

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jesus Grew in Wisdom and Stature and Favor

Luke 2:39-52 NLT 
    39  ¶When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. 40There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him. 
   41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. 42 When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. 43 After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, 44 because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends. 
   45 When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. 46 Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 
   48 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” 
   49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he meant. 
   51 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart. 
   52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.

What must it have been like to raise the only begotten Son of God, as an infant, a toddler, a young boy, a teenager?  Scripture tells us that the Messiah was tempted in all ways as we are so that he can be our example. Thus all of life's experiences that other humans know, he too would come to know them-- except that he would always choose NOT to sin.  His little heart listened to God. As he grew up his young heart listened to God and He obeyed. Children sin, teens sin, young adults sin. All sin. We do so because we wrestle with our self and self preferences. Christ had those and the had to wrestle with them as well. But He managed to obey God and say no to self.

Notice that the pre-teen boy was teaching scholars about the Word of God. This suggests that he had studied God's word and had hidden it within his mind and heart. Notice his innocent response to Mary and Joseph's panic statement "why have you done this to us. . ." What had he done to them? He was obeying His father by teaching truth to people who were lost in darkness. It was in complete innocence that he said "didn't you know that I must be in my Father's house?"  Jesus knew then he was the Son of God. If that then he also knew what future lay ahead of him in another 21 years and yet he pursued obedience along his path. As a child then he was obedient to his parents, just as he was to his Heavenly Father.

Mary recorded these images and experiences to be played back years later when she would make sense of the terror of the crucifixion, and when she would also help the other first believers make sense of it too. God will help us to always do His will when we make the commitment to do so and trust Him for the resources and strength. Jesus promised that whatever miracles he did we would be able to do also, so living outside of sin is possible for us who live in Christ. How about making this day one of those days in your life?
Your servant in Christ's love

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Shepherds went back. . .glorifying and praising God

Luke 2:8-20 NLT 
   That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
   13  Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 
   14  “Glory to God in highest heaven,  and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 
   15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 
   16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

The birth of God's Messiah, the Savior of Humanity was a one-time, unique historical event. It was bound to be different from any other birth throughout time. The birth to a virgin girl was significant enough, but there was to be more. The visits by angels to Mary and to Zechariah were astonishing enough but there was to be more. These shepherds, the nomads of the day, and the lowest class of society just above beggars, were to be the ones honored by an invitation to the nativity by thousands of singing angels. This invitation exemplifies how not one person of any society is to be excluded from the love of God and His salvation.

Doubtless the shepherds were shocked by the sight and sounds but they did not doubt for a second. Higher more 'responsible' levels of society would want to debate with the angel and demand proof, but to these simple shepherds, the angels were proof enough that this nativity was, indeed, an event planned and carried out by God Himself. The spokes person angel, probably Gabriel again, announced the place, the time, and even described how the baby would be dressed.

I once was in a very large concert hall filled with thousands of choir members from everywhere around our area who had been invited to a Messiah Sing Along. We all had our books for Handle's Messiah and were singing our parts. There were hundreds of tenors, and hundreds of Sopranos. There were as many Altos and Bases, as well as a pretty good sized string orchestra. We had all learned our music at our home churches and were now there just to experience the joy of singing the Christmas portion of the Messiah. The glory of the sound was mind boggling to me and the impact was not lost on the others. As I looked around there were hundreds of other bass singers with tears streaming down their faces just like me, as we were singing 'Hal-le-lu-jah! Hal-le-lu-jah!Hal-le- e-e -lu-jah!. . . And He shall reign for ever and ever! And He shall reign. . . . " That must have been something like those Shepherds experienced only on a much grander scale. The Birth of the Messiah came accompanied by the Angelic Choir of Heaven's Temple.

The Shepherds sat mesmerized by the sights and sounds until the choralers departed back into Heaven from whence they had come so suddenly. Next they rushed to Bethlehem as they had been invited to do and worshiped God's Messiah, the Christ Child. The King of the universe was there before them in the tiny body of a new born baby boy and they rejoiced. In fact, apparently they continued rejoicing back to camp and wherever else their shepherding duties would take them for Verse 18 says that 'all who heard the shepherds were astonished.  They were the world's first evangelists to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  That was why they were invited-- because of their simple faith and their willingness to share their faith. They were not hindered by the social standards of the day, they just told about their experiences, probably for decades after. That was why, when Christ began his ministry 30 years later, the people responded as they did. The society had been primed that the Messiah was among them and would begin calling them to Himself.

I wonder if we can be like those simple shepherds, quick to believe, quick to share our faith, and persistent at doing so wherever we go. Maybe you can tell somebody this Christmas season what Christmas is truly all about.
Your servant in Christ's love

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Time Came. . . and She Laid Him in a Manger

Luke 2:1-7 (NLT)  
   At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, his fiancee, who was now obviously pregnant. 
   6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

God's plan through the ages of history was playing itself out. Centuries earlier Prophets foretold this event, that the Messiah from God would come this way, first as a child of special circumstance, then grow into a man without succumbing to the plague of humanity-- sin. Here, Joseph and Mary carrying the Lord of the Universe within her, followed human orders of a human emperor, but all that had been long before planned. And, as promised, the Messiah would come to Bethlehem, even while it slept. These descendants of wise King David, were mere nobody's on the road. They were poor and hardly noticeable among so many other poor that crowded the roads and residences during this time of upheaval called census. But not even their poverty could prevent the coming of the Son of God. Not event he hard journey of a young woman across miles of desert within days of delivering her baby could forestall the coming of God's Messiah and Mankind's Redeemer.

You see, God has a plan. God always had a plan then and does yet today. No matter what we might be facing, no matter how overwhelming the troubles might be, God's plan is in motion. We are blessed to be but a party to God's plan. We need to resist discouragement by remembering that God is working His plan and when we have yielded our lives to Him through faith in Jesus Christ, then we are forever a part of that plan as redeemed children of God. Make Christmas special among your family members this year by focusing on this truth.

Your servant in Christ's Love

Friday, December 3, 2010

Give light to those who sit in darkness.

Luke 1:67-79 NLT  
   Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy: 
    “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,  because he has visited and redeemed his people. 69 He has sent us a mighty Savior  from the royal line of his servant David, 70 just as he promised  through his holy prophets long ago. 71Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us. 72 He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant— 73 the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham. 74 We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. '
   76  “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. 77 You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. 78 Because of God’s tender mercy,  the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, 79  to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.”

After nine months of being without speech because of his lack of faith in the Lord, Zechariah makes up for lost time by proclaiming this prophesy at the Holy Spirit's urging. All that was taking place was ground for praise to God. The coming of the Savior was now not just a hopeful story told from generation to generation, it was a fulfilled promise and the evidence was in the birth of John. In three more months, John's cousin, Jesus would come into the world. And the process would be set into motion that could bring salvation from sin to human kind.

Unfortunately, Zechariah was too steeped in Jewish lore to see the bigger picture for he states that they would be saved from those who hate Jews. Actually it is all people who love God that will be saved from the one in the universe who hates God-- and all his minions that seem to control the world's affairs. He gets it right in verse 74-5 for we truly are saved so that we can serve God without fear. Because of Jesus Christ we cans serve God in true holiness and righteousness. Christ's righteousness enters us and replicates itself within us by God's power when we are committed to Him.

John's task was large-- to "prepare the way of the Lord and tell people how to find salvation through Him. John's testimony was to open the door so others would see the light that God had sent into the world. That light has been with us for two thousand years now. Is that light in you? Does it shine out to others? It can, if you want to permit it to do so.

Your servant in Christ's love

Thursday, December 2, 2010

For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way

Luke 1:56-66 NLT  
  56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home. 
  57 When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son.  58 And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. 
  59 When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” 
  61 “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.”  62 So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. 63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. 
  65  Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. 66 Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way. 

In ancient Israel, as in many eastern cultures the naming of a child is a very big event. It is not a private thing with the parents and the hospital records clerk as today. The whole family had a say in the child's name. And, a first born son was surly to be named after his father or a more significant grand father. The extended family was present for this 8th day circumcision celebration. The event was much like 'christening' ceremonies are or dedication ceremonies are in more modern western cultures. In fact those are most likely modeled after this old testament Jewish tradition.

You recall that Old Zechariah had been rather thoughtless and very "Jewish" in his conversation with Gabriel and dared to ask an Archangel to prove what he was saying was true. The consequence, the proof, if you will, came in making Zechariah speechless until the birth and naming of John. Sometimes we must endure challenges that we have called down upon ourselves when we don't fully and immediately trust and obey what God calls upon us to accept in His strength.

As the family members came to the part in the ceremony when they spoke the new baby's name, it was as though they would be speaking him into existence in the presence of the whole world. Normally it would be the dad who would speak this part but he was silenced by Gabriel. He humbly accepted his role and they asked Elizabeth to name the Baby. Everyone was expecting her to say 'his name will be Zechariah. But she said  firmly and with joy in her heart that his name is John! They couldn't believe their ears so they turned to the silent dad asking him. He had to write his answer to them, probably rather perturbed at them refusing to acknowledge his wife's pronouncement of the name. Someone produced a tablet and Zechariah wrote "His name is John."  Instantly his tongue was loosed because of his faithful obedience to God's plan. He started by praising God.

This turn of events made it clear to all present that this baby was more than just a very unusual child of old-age parents. He was announced by an angel, and it was told then that he would be a profit of the Most High and would be the one introducing the coming Messiah. That made John special and everyone knew it. Their comment was that "the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.

That could be the way people speak about you or me when we are living in complete obedience to our Lord's will. God has promised that His hand will be upon us when we believe and obey. How about today? Can the hand of the Lord be upon you today in a special way?

Your Servant in Christ's Love

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How My Soul Praises the Lord!

Luke 1:39-56 NLT  
  A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 
  42  Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” 
46  Mary responded, 
 “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. 
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! 
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, 
and from now on all generations will call me blessed. 

49 For the Mighty One is holy, 
and he has done great things for me. 
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation 
to all who fear him. 

51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things! 
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. 
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones 
and exalted the humble. 

53 He has filled the hungry with good things  
and sent the rich away with empty hands. 
54  He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. 
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors, 
to Abraham and his children forever.” 

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home. 

Elizabeth was very elderly, more like a great aunt than a cousin to Mary, really. She probably had a hand in raising Mary as an infant, and here she is calling her young relative "the Mother of my Lord."  That had to stop Mary's heart once more in remembrance of things that the Angel Gabriel had told her. I so love Mary's heart to turn this praise from herself back to praise for God, who, after all, made it all happen. Her praise reads like a wonderful song of praise sung in a worship service. Mary didn't need a song director or a band to start up to sing a praise song to Jesus. She just opened her heart and her mouth and out come these beautiful words. Repeat them over a few times like you might do in a praise and worship chorus time in church.

This was such a beautiful song to have been composed by this teen-aged girl through whom God would bring the Savior of all the World. How did you praise our Lord today? What glorious things that He has done for you and others did you sing happily about as you went about your day yesterday? How might you sing about His praises today? Why not start right now. We can sing about his great forgiveness! We can sing about His unconditional love. We could sing about how His nature takes up residence within our own and remakes us over into His image. We could sing about our desire to be unconditionally committed to the will and priorities of our Lord and Savior. We could, but will we?

Your servant in Christ's love

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is God's Arm Too Short?

Luke 1:26-38 NLT  
   In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 
   29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” 
  34  Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” 
  35  The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.” 
   38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. 

Two special appearances by the Arch Angel, Gabriel (the one tradition says is the horn blower of the last trumpet). He comes to bring unique news to two unique people. First to the father of John, supernaturally born in his parent's old age as a harbinger of Isaac, son of Abraham. Next to Mary to be the virgin mother of the human savior, and Sacrificial Lamb, Jesus. Notice how Mary responds to the mind-boggling news brought by the angel. First she simply struggles to understand. Scripture tradition has Mary being a very young woman, possibly in her teens. Perhaps this helped her not give in to the cynicism that years bring us. Her only question was not for proof but in wonderment as to how such an event could be possible given her virginity and obedience to that part of God's law.

Mary surely knew what society would make of your supernatural pregnancy, but she did not protest about that to the angel. After Gabriel explains by reminding her how with God nothing is impossible, she accepts the promise with the words "may everything you have said about me come true." The perfect faith, without detailed understanding but in complete Trust that God was in charge and going to work out His will for His glory to save humanity from sin.

We can learn from Mary that we need not posses detailed understanding of the mechanics of God's promises and miracles to yet receive them. All we need to do is simply believe and trust. Certainly there are things you wish to believe God for that are not nearly so supernatural as were these two births, especially the birth of The Savior. We can stand with Mary in this passage and hear God's messenger tell us as well that "with God nothing is impossible." Or some like to paraphrase Isaiah 59:1 'Is God's arm too short?' Certainly it is not. With God's will all things are possible. What are you willing to trust God for this day and say as Mary did "may what the Lord says about me come true."

Your servant in Christ's Love

Monday, November 29, 2010

You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth

Luke 1:8-25 NLT  
   8 One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. 9 As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying. 
   11  While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” 
   18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” 
   19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” '
   21  Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. 22 When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary. 
   23  When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. 24 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. 25 “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”

All of the stories told around Advent season each year are dear to our hearts and this one is no exception. It almost comes off as a sad bit of buffoonery, with Zechariah asking too many questions and being stunned into loss of speech until the birth of John. But it is not buffoonery, it is a near tragedy. Zechariah-- a spiritual leader in Israel, who had been praying faithfully for decades for a child received an answer, His response, however was to question the veracity of the angel and the power of Creator God.

Unlike Mary, who would later ask "how is this possible. . ." Zechariah made the error of asking for a sign of proof. The angel appearing should have been all the proof anyone should have needed.  Not only was Zechariah doubting the Angel he dared to ask God for even more signs. That was the very same sin that often frustrated Jesus about the Jewish leaders in that they ignored the obvious miracles and asked for more 'signs.'  The angel silences Zechariah and he must remain that way until later when the child is born and he complies in naming him John, rather than after himself as would have been the custom. 

The greatest thing about this story is that His prayers are answered even though he made an error in judgment about how to respond to an angel delivering God's promise. And the promise was to more than he and his wife-- it was to all human kind. The promise was the miracle of the Savior, Christ the Lord, the Sacrificial Lamb, the hope for life eternal to all who are willing to believe. An angel has delivered us great news as well, albeit through Zechariah's story. That promise comes with complete written explanation in the inspired Scripture the Holy Bible. I don't think it is a good idea for anyone to doubt and demand even more proof. God may give it in a way that you are not expecting. Why not simply listen, ask God for more strength of faith to believe, and apply that faith to your ongoing walk with the Messiah?  We, too, can have great joy and gladness and rejoice at the Messiah's coming into the world.
Your servant in His love

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations

Rev. 15 NLT
1 Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. 2 I saw before me what seemed to be a glass sea mixed with fire. And on it stood all the people who had been victorious over the beast and his statue and the number representing his name. They were all holding harps that God had given them. 3 And they were singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:  “Great and marvelous are your works,  O Lord God, the Almighty.  Just and true are your ways,  O King of the nations. 4 Who will not fear you, Lord,  and glorify your name?  For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you,  for your righteous deeds have been revealed.” 
   5  Then I looked and saw that the Temple in heaven, God’s Tabernacle, was thrown wide open. 6 The seven angels who were holding the seven plagues came out of the Temple. They were clothed in spotless white linen with gold sashes across their chests. 7 Then one of the four living beings handed each of the seven angels a gold bowl filled with the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. 8 The Temple was filled with smoke from God’s glory and power. No one could enter the Temple until the seven angels had completed pouring out the seven plagues.

The Song of the redeemed sung only by those redeemed by the blood of Christ in heaven is followed by a reprise from a smaller group-- those who had been martyred for not worshipping the false messiah under his reign during the last seven years of the old world. Their reprise is repeated in many praise songs of our day as well. They celebrate how great the works of God are, in the face of the counter fit ones performed by the false messiah and the Dragon. They sing of God's justice. They sing of God's ultimate truth. They sing of God's holiness. They sing of all nations recognizing and worshipping God at the end as His righteousness is completely revealed.

Next, the team of seven angles reappear, and receive their bowls of ultimate and complete destruction over evil. The sign that signals their actions is the smoke in the temple of heaven. Since no one could enter, then no one could receive forgiveness any longer. The opportunity to become redeemed by Christ came to an end at that point. The bowl plagues would unleash total destruction of the evil world. God's people were removed and what remained would be burned, evaporated, shaken to pieces, smothered, and ground to dust by unimaginable hail stones. It was heart breaking for God who is Love but is also Justice, to complete the cycle and now repay evil as had been long prophesied. The subsequent chapter describes the destruction. The one after that narrows the focus on the destruction. Then comes the return and millennial reign of Christ, the second final battle with the Dragon, and then the New Creation.

The thing that keeps the Redeemed singing is knowing that God brings ultimate justice to all creation and fulfills all His promises. God's promise are enough for us to sing praises and thanks even today.

Your servant in Christ's love

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No one could learn this song except those who had been redeemed

Rev. 14 NLT 
   1 Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together. 
   3  This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb. 5 They have told no lies; they are without blame. 
   6  And I saw another angel flying through the sky, carrying the eternal Good News to proclaim to the people who belong to this world—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 “Fear God,” he shouted. “Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.” 
   8  Then another angel followed him through the sky, shouting, “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen—because she made all the nations of the world drink the wine of her passionate immorality.” 
   9  Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand 10 must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. 11 The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.” 
   12  This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently, obeying his commands and maintaining their faith in Jesus. 
   13  And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!” 
   14  Then I saw a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was someone like the Son of Man. He had a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. 
   15  Then another angel came from the Temple and shouted to the one sitting on the cloud, “Swing the sickle, for the time of harvest has come; the crop on earth is ripe.” 16 So the one sitting on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the whole earth was harvested. 
   17  After that, another angel came from the Temple in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. 18 Then another angel, who had power to destroy with fire, came from the altar. He shouted to the angel with the sharp sickle, “Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgment.” 19 So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great winepress of God’s wrath.  20 The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle.

The entire chapter 14 is quoted above because it loses focus if I try to apply it in segments. It is a single picture given to John about the end. We know it is the end of the way things are now because the vision starts with Jesus "standing on Mount Zion" with the completed people of God (the 144,000). Mount Zion is the metaphor used for Jerusalem, from where Jesus rules from during His millennium kingdom. John paints this picture to give hope to the persecuted peoples of God in his day and in the days since until that great time. The message is that we must trust our Lord and hold tight no matter what we face, until He comes. His coming is an assured thing! While we may not understand well the timing and the mechanics of it, we can trust in its absolute truth.

I started to fret about the level of purity described for those people with Jesus until I remembered that the rest of scripture say that none of us is pure none of us is good, not one. It is only through the purifying blood of Christ that we receive this level of purity. The phrase that they "follow the lamb wherever he goes" clarifies that these are the obedient believers making Christ's will their highest priority. And, just as sure as is the coming of Christ the King, so is assured that the evil kingdom of commerce and avarice that drives the world today will crumble and fall-- "Babylon the great is fallen."

Verses 14 through 20 describe two harvests. The first may be the harvest of the righteous. The second may be the carnage that will happen at the battle of Armageddon described in more detail in the next chapters. The winepress, throughout scripture was always illustrative of God's wrath. And it would be a perfect wrath, perfectly justified, perfectly complete, and perfectly appropriate and fitting for those who resist, rebel and refuse until it is too late to do other wise.

John and the angels could hear the singing. It was The Song of the Redeemed-- only we (I pray that includes you) will be able to sing it!

Your servant in Christ's love

Monday, November 22, 2010

Use Hard Times to Grow Strong Testimonies that Encourage Others

Rev. 13:11- 18 NLT 

  11 Then I saw another beast come up out of the earth. He had two horns like those of a lamb, but he spoke with the voice of a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast. And he required all the earth and its people to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 He did astounding miracles, even making fire flash down to earth from the sky while everyone was watching. 14 And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world. He ordered the people to make a great statue of the first beast, who was fatally wounded and then came back to life. 15 He was then permitted to give life to this statue so that it could speak. Then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die.

   16 He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. 17 And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. 18 Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.

The collection of images shown to John continue to portray various circumstances relating the God, human kind, redemption, and ultimate judgment. We are introduced to the unholy trinity. First there was the Dragon-- clearly explained as Satan, the one fallen from Heaven because of pride and sin, who took a third of the other angels with him into pride and arrogance. He raises up his own false messiah-- the Beast out of the sea (the sea representing collective humanity). This next beast out of the earth is the false prophet, the evil counterfeit of God's Holy Spirit. The false messiah will even stage a false resurrection (13;14. People will worship him because they are impressed by his power. He will unite the world under one leader for the first time in earth’s history since the fall of man. He uses power to point to himself and promote evil plans.

God, by contrast uses his infinitely greater power to love and build up. We must encourage others to not be misled by claims of great miracles or reports about a resurrection or reincarnation of someone claiming to be Christ. When Jesus returns He will reveal himself to everyone (Matt 24:23-28)

Verse 7 reveals that the best conquers Gods’ people and even rules over them, but cannot harm them spiritually. His worldwide dominance and demand for personal worship will not fools true believers. It may be that Christians are not raptured at this point in future events, but must endure this process. If so we must be equipped and empowered by full submission to God and filling of His Holy Spirit so we will not be deceived.

A time of persecution described in verse 8-10,  will provide opportunity for believers to exercise patient endurance and faithfulness. The tough times we now face are also such opportunity for spiritual growth and preparation for more serious times to come. Pray for believers that we will not let hard times turn us away from trust in God and the Lord.  Pray that we will use hard times as opportunities for spiritual growth and to be strong testimonies to others.

Your Servant in Christ's Love

Friday, November 19, 2010

God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.

Rev. 13:1-10 (NLT)  
   1 Then I saw a beast rising up out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God. 2 This beast looked like a leopard, but it had the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion! And the dragon gave the beast his own power and throne and great authority. 
   3 I saw that one of the heads of the beast seemed wounded beyond recovery—but the fatal wound was healed! The whole world marveled at this miracle and gave allegiance to the beast. 4 They worshiped the dragon for giving the beast such power, and they also worshiped the beast. “Who is as great as the beast?” they exclaimed. “Who is able to fight against him?” 
   5 Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. 6 And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. 8 And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made—the Book that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered. 
   9  Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. 10 Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword. 
   This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.

In the previous chapter we read where John saw the significant even where Satan took his stand awaiting God to come for the great conflict, that would end in binding the author of evil for a millennium. Things appear to be proceeding according to God's plan. The next image John reports is not subsequent to the last but prior to it. It is another look at that beast and the unholy trinity that he tries to empower to oppose God at the great battle. Where did they come from? One from the sea, the other out of the land. The beast from the sea represents the city of greatest power and authority In John's day that was thought of as Rome. Other images call it 'babylon that perished centuries earlier. Still others refer to Babylon as a metaphor for the evil Jerusalem that becomes co opted by Satan.

In this great city, wherever it is, The fallen angel leader ruled with the sin nature of collective humanity. The political power of the city came from people granting their will to this enemy of righteousness in exchange for the illusion of power. Ten of them, leaders of their own kingdoms would do this. So the "Beast" is the false Christ or messiah that Satan grants authority to rule in his name as God granted to Christ to rule in His name. The second beast will become part of this unholy trinity too but we'll see more on him later. The purpose of the first beast-- we call him the "Antichrist," was to get people to worship the Dragon, or Satan. He dies this by getting people to worship himself. Satan knows that when we worship anything else other than God then we are worshipping Satan-- the anti-god  or the opposite of God. The picture unfolds with people who have resisted surrender to the true God bowing to worship the false God who will let them have things their own way. But even that turns out to be a lie and none of the promises this anti-god promises are ever delivered.

It's a lot like that even now. We recognize that all the promises of our past evil practices never brought the satisfaction or fulfillment they promised us. But our commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ always brings us that fulfillment when we remain true in it. The vision taught John that there may well be persecution in physical life and the Beast will even be allowed to politically conquer God's holy people, though it will never defeat them. Those who worship the best are the ones whose names are not written in "The Book of Life." They are chained to their evil choices by self-selection.

God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.

Your servant in Christ's love

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Heaven's Album of Significant Events

Rev. 12:1-18 NLT  
  1 Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth. 
  3 Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. 4 His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born. 
  5 She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. 6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days. 
  7 Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. 8 And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. 9 This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels. 
  10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,
     “It has come at last— salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth—the one who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. 
  12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea,  for the devil has come down to you in great anger,  knowing that he has little time.” 
  13  When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time. 
  15 Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. 16 But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. 17 And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus. 
  18 Then the dragon took his stand on the shore beside the sea.

It would be an error to try to read this passage as a sequence of events. I think it is better to view it as a photo album in which significant events are recorded and browsed at random. Certainly there would be problems with time-lines were we to try to create one. It is clear that the child who is born is the Messiah, the sacrificial lamb who would take away the sins of the world. It is clear that the dragon spent his time throughout the ages trying to prevent God's messiah from coming, and then trying to prevent the sacrifice. But in moving people to kill Christ, the Great Serpent played his role in bringing about the redemption of mankind. He defeated his own purpose because he was not as great as the thought.

The Woman clothed in purity and crowned with the twelve stars clearly were the people of faith. She could not be the 'Bride of Christ' as some think because she gives birth to the the child. Was this the person Mary? We can't be sure but we know that Mary did not get carried away to a safe place. Christ, however was caught up into heaven after his resurrection fulfilling the prophesies and promises of redemption from sin.

The great dragon and a third of the angels (stars) in Heaven are ejected to the earth. We can't be sure if this took place during ancient history, or after the birth and resurrection of Christ. It is clear, however, that Satan no longer has access to Heaven and that he and the demons ceaselessly seek to trip up and destroy faith in believers as well as prevent non-believers from coming to faith. As the enemy opposes the people of faith in physical ways, the creation supports the work of the Creator to uphold believers and protect them in physical ways as well. The spirit warfare that this describes is actually going on around us 24/7. We ought to be in prayer and appreciate others who are in prayer for us. We want to be included in Heaven's Album of Significant Events.
Your servant in Christ's love

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Last Trumpet

Rev. 11:15-19 NLT  
   15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven:
     “The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
         and he will reign forever and ever.” 
   16 The twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones before God fell with their faces to the ground and worshiped him. 17 And they said, “We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty, the one who is and who always was, for now you have assumed your great power and have begun to reign. 18 The nations were filled with wrath, but now the time of your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward your servants the prophets, as well as your holy people, and all who fear your name, from the least to the greatest. It is time to destroy  all who have caused destruction on the earth.” 
   19  Then, in heaven, the Temple of God was opened and the Ark of his covenant could be seen inside the Temple. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed and roared, and there was an earthquake and a terrible hailstorm.

Other New Testament scriptures speak of the events taking place "at the last trumpet." That sound signals the rising of the Christian dead and the translating of the Christian saints to meet the Lord in the air. This reunion is preparation for the grand return of Christ to earth in setting up the Kingdom of God and destroying all evil. John's revelation also sounds a last trumpet and this event comes with the announcement that we see in verse 15, the world no longer will be under the control and influence of Satan but will now belong to God. It always belonged to God but now God comes to take possession of it and depose the unlawful squatters-- Satan and evil. The event is so awesome that the 24 elders on thrones around God's throne fall to the ground in praise and and thanksgiving to God for bringing it all to a conclusion. The event brings about a sequence that will end in judgment and eternal punishment for the dead. Jesus often spoke about the living and the dead-- those saved from their sins through faith in Him and those presently dead in their sins because they refuse to believe.

The wrathful unbelieving humanity of the world will face the furry of perfect wrath, justified wrath, wrath they could have avoided if they would have surrendered and humbled themselves. Let us pray that no one whom we know ends up facing God's wrath. Let us pray that we can be lead by the Lord to reach out to those persons yet again in Christ's name and that the Holy Spirit will draw them to Himself as we obey the Lord and disciple in His name.

Your servant, in Christ's love

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For whom should you be praying now-- before it is too late?

Rev. 11:1-14 NLT  
   1 Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of God and the altar, and count the number of worshipers. 2 But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months.  3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will be clothed in burlap and will prophesy during those 1,260 days.” 
   4 These two prophets are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth.  5 If anyone tries to harm them, fire flashes from their mouths and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die.  6 They have power to shut the sky so that no rain will fall for as long as they prophesy. And they have the power to turn the rivers and oceans into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they wish. 
   7 When they complete their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit will declare war against them, and he will conquer them and kill them. 8 And their bodies will lie in the main street of Jerusalem, the city that is figuratively called “Sodom” and “Egypt,” the city where their Lord was crucified.  9 And for three and a half days, all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will stare at their bodies. No one will be allowed to bury them. 10 All the people who belong to this world will gloat over them and give presents to each other to celebrate the death of the two prophets who had tormented them. 
   11  But after three and a half days, God breathed life into them, and they stood up! Terror struck all who were staring at them. 12 Then a loud voice from heaven called to the two prophets, “Come up here!” And they rose to heaven in a cloud as their enemies watched. 
   13 At the same time there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed a tenth of the city. Seven thousand people died in that earthquake, and everyone else was terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 
   14 The second terror is past, but look, the third terror is coming quickly.

The measuring of the Temple of God would be an impossible task because elsewhere we read that there is no need of a temple in heaven for God is the temple. Thus the Temple of God will be as immeasurable as God Himself. God's temple is made up of His worshipers-- God's people of all ages. The people of God are where the Spirit of God resides within and among, so they are His temple. You, Christ-follower, are part of the Temple of God. The task was given to introduce the coming period where a place called the holy city would be trampled by the forces of evil. Yet we have seen through the Book that the time of the end for evil will come and now is coming soon.

The periods of time described in this passage are the basis for what some teachers say are the two divisions of the seven-year tribulation period-- one part of lessor troubles and one part of horrific troubles. We are in the latter period as we begin this section of Revelation. The witnesses that come, may be two literal men-- some say Moses and Enoch. Others say they represent the testimony of the Church across the centuries. In either case, there will be witness, the witnesses will be persecuted by the forces of evil who will appear to triumph. The Dragon, himself will appear to overpower them. Yet their resurrection will take place as witnessed by sinful mankind refusing to trust God.

Some say that verse 11 represents God calling the Church-- the body of believers in Christ from all over the world-- to Heaven. This event is often referred to as The Rapture. Others say that had to happen before the seven years of turmoil ever began. Again, it is not important which description is correct as both terminate in the same outcome-- God's believers with Him and the enemies of God standing in judgment.  The earthquake described is not the final one that brings ultimate destruction upon earth-- that will be described in later chapters. This is just a tremor by comparison-- though it destroys ten percent of the city in which it takes place. Even that is a large earthquake.  It is interesting to read in verse 14 that everyone left living gave glory to God. Yet in the very next judgment they are back to cursing God and refusing to repent of their evil self centered ways.

We see how pervasive and consuming the bondage to sin is for human kind. Without the intervention of God's Holy Spirit to give us power to say "no" to self and sin we would not have been able or be able now to live for God. Even our repentance had to be empowered by God-- we cannot generate it on our own. How did it happen?  Someone asked God to save us. Someone prayed that God would help you to hear His call and have the ability to repent. Someone continues to pray that you receive the power from God's Holy Spirit to live for him. Seeing miraculous events will never change you, as they will not change these people of this nearing future time described in the book. For whom should you be praying now-- before it is too late?

Your servant in Christ's Love

Monday, November 15, 2010

God's Mysterious Plan Will be Fulfilled

Rev. 10:1-11 
   1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, surrounded by a cloud, with a rainbow over his head. His face shone like the sun, and his feet were like pillars of fire. 2 And in his hand was a small scroll that had been opened. He stood with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. 3 And he gave a great shout like the roar of a lion. And when he shouted, the seven thunders answered. 
   4 When the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write. But I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Keep secret what the seven thunders said, and do not write it down.” 
   5  Then the angel I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand toward heaven. 6 He swore an oath in the name of the one who lives forever and ever, who created the heavens and everything in them, the earth and everything in it, and the sea and everything in it. He said, “There will be no more delay. 7 When the seventh angel blows his trumpet, God’s mysterious plan will be fulfilled. It will happen just as he announced it to his servants the prophets.” 
   8 Then the voice from heaven spoke to me again: “Go and take the open scroll from the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 
   9  So I went to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll. “Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” 10 So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach. 
   11 Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.”

Whenever we hear from God, His angels, or His people in the Revelation, it expresses the wonder, majesty and limitless power of God and His Kingdom. The sheer size of this majestic angel shown to John illustrates how lopsided the power of God is. The angel must have been a giant of giants since he was seen straddling both land and ocean. His head must have reached out into the stratosphere. Yet the 'beast' and people of earth not committed to Christ continued to resist God. The angle demonstrates God's power and proclaims the ultimate victory, announcing that the time of the end, would no longer be delayed. This encourages you and me if we will remember in those times of trouble that we face-  when things may seem to go badly, that this angel represents the kind of power that is on our side! God's Giant angelic forces are with us (see Matt 18:10 or Hebr. 1;14). This image helps us to keep our troubles in proper perspective.

In 10:7 we read about the fulfilling of 'God's mysterious plan." This plan  is that God removes all evil from His creation and brings the ultimate exaltation of Christ. Such a pronouncement brings fear within God's enemies and they continue to panic, blindly resisting until the very end. For God's chosen people of faith,  this image brings hope and peace. Do we really long for Christ's return? Are we really eagerly watching for it, or is it merely an idea on the back burner of our mind? We should be praying for God's justice to be carried out and his plan fulfilled. We should desire Christ to come in the triumph of His Kingdom.

The scroll John was told to eat, reflects the scroll of Ezekiel as well, Ingesting it means it was to be internalized and then fuel John's prophetic message. Its sweet taste meant such message is received joyfully by God's people. It's sower effect on the stomach meant that it always hurts us when we prophesy and teach the truth that those who continue to rebel against God will, in the end, suffer eternally.

How have you prayed recently concerning the coming Kingdom of God?
Your servant,
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