Monday, September 29, 2014

The Proof is In the Pudding

And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men.  For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing.  After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.  And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing;  but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” – Acts 5:35-39

There’s an old saying that dates back to the 14th century that we’ve shortened over the years.  It is “the proof is in the pudding”.  Originally, the saying was more to the tune of the proof of a pudding is in its eating.  It means that the only way to know if something is good or is successful is for it to be tried.

For me, that’s one of the most overwhelming evidences of Christianity.  It has survived persecution, martyrdom, the dark ages, and still survives today.  There is no business that has been managed by man to have every survived this long.  There is no government that has survived this long.  It has outlasted entire civilizations.  And even today, it is the foundation of the lives of many.  The same is true of God’s word.  The Bible has survived even in nations where it was made illegal to have one.

In Acts 5 Peter and John are thrown into prison for teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But in the middle of the night, an Angel opens the doors and instructs them to “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”  The Angel refers to the gospel as ‘this life’, which is the eternal life afforded by the death and resurrection of Christ to those that believe in Him.  He instructed them to go to the temple, where people were already gathered trying to worship God in their own way under the laws of Moses. 

When the religious leaders of the council called for them to be retrieved from the prison, they found the doors of the prison locked, but Peter and John were not there.  When they found they were in the temple teaching, once again, salvation through Christ, they were outraged!

There was a man there that on day within the council who was a Pharisee, one who prided himself in being a devoutly religious man.  His name was Gamaliel, and God’s word says he was “a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people".  His advice to the High Priest and Sadducees was basically, ‘the proof is in the pudding’.   He referred to Theudas who had also come against the religious council with new teaching “claiming to be somebody”, and had many followers. But when he died, all who followed him were dispersed, and no one cared to mention his name again.  There was another even after Theudas called Judas of Galilee who also rose up and many people followed him.  But when he died his cause died with him. 

Gamaliel’s advice was to just wait and see what would happen being certain that this newfound movement called Christianity would die with the disciples.  He said “for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”

And here I rest my case for the cause of Christianity.  It has yet to be overthrown, and it will not be overthrown.  Persecution of Christians will continue, and martyrdom may even take my life.  But I am certain that God will endure all our evil.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” – Isaiah 40:8

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Praying for Boldness

“Now Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”  And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.” – Acts 4:29-31

After reading some of the news this morning, it is increasingly evident that we are living in a time like that of the early disciples were loving God could cost you your life.  The disciples had only healed a man who had been crippled since birth.  Peter and John came by him at the gate called Beautiful and Peter said to him “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  And the man, who was over 40 years old, got up and walked.
Peter and John were taken into custody by the law of the day.  Now take note that it was not a crime to heal a man of a terrible disease.  That wasn’t why they were arrested.  They healed in the name of “Jesus Christ”, and the people that saw it surrounded them and were anxious to understand the power in which they performed this miracle.  Peter and John then preached salvation through Jesus Christ for restoration and justification of the very people who had screamed ‘crucify him!’ only days before. 

When the Sanhedrin, the Jewish legal counsel of the day, asked “By what power or by what name have you done this?” they boldly answered that it was Jesus who they had crucified, and even tried to preach salvation to them.  THAT is what got them arrested. 

The Sanhedrin threatened them not to say the name of Jesus in public, and yet, Peter and John pretty much snubbed their noses at it and said they’d choose to serve God instead of the Sanhedrin!  But instead of calling for their deaths, the Sanhedrin let them go! They released them without punishment!  Why?  Because those that believed were of such a great number and so present in the city! Acts 4:21 says that “because of the people” they knew they could not harm them.  Believers were in one accord, in agreement, a united force to be reckoned with.  So they released Peter and John.

Peter and John then went back to the other disciples and told them of what had happened, and they all prayed to God for boldness.  The prayer is in Acts 4:24-30, and says:

Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:

‘Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’

“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

Could we not pray that same prayer today? Faced with the Muslim beheadings that are going on within our own nation (Oklahoma, just yesterday), faced with the threat of Isis killing thousands of Christians in Iraq, faced with the adversity within our own 50 states by which we are now told we cannot speak of Jesus in schools or public assemblies, would not these same words fit our prayers?

Allow me to beat a dead horse for a minute.  Acts 4:24 says “they raised their voice to God with one accord”.  When we the body of Christ are separated into multiple denominational barriers that all war against each other, we are not in “one accord”.  We are small cells of believers easily overtaken by the enemy – and that enemy is often our own brothers and sisters in Christ.  How that must sicken Jesus!  Read John 17:20-23 when Jesus prays for all believers immediately before His death.  He didn’t pray that we’d have nice churches, popular youth groups, large auditoriums, feed the poor, or even finance a bunch of mission trips! He prayed that we would “be one in Us [God, Jesus, Holy Spirit], that the world may believe that You sent Me”.  The reason we do not have more believers is not because we don’t have mission trips, don’t have the right ambiance in our church auditorium, or don’t have all the programs we need to bring non-believers to our doors.  It’s because we are not ONE.  Nothing is as opposite of the “love one another even as I have loved you” command Jesus gave than a bunch of so-called Christians arguing over what the proper way to take communion is, or what is true baptism, or what the box the tithes are to be put in should look like, or … ok, the horse is dead, and I’m done. 

Being non-denominational does not mean I don’t believe in anything.  It means I believe strongly what I believe, which is the Bible from front to back, and that we should not argue the smaller points of service. Read 2 Timothy 2:14-19 for yourself, and then ask how we got all these denominations anyhow.  Answer: sin.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we must pray for boldness for ourselves and the generations to come.  We must raise our children to be willing to fight for Christ, to fight to follow. 

Understandably, those that don’t believe in Christ will ask why it important that their children become Christians.  Good question.  In case you haven’t noticed, Christians don’t go around killing those that don’t believe in Jesus Christ.  We’re against murder as a whole.  As part of who we are, we accept that we are to love all people, regardless of what they believe.  We want those we love to be Christians, but we can love you even if you don’t through the love that Christ has placed in us. 

Ask yourself, what happens after Christians are gone?  What if the next thing Isis seeks out are those that believe in Buddha, Astrology, Scientology, or some other god?  Do you believe strong enough to be willing to die for your belief?  That’s what sets Christians apart from other religions.  We’ve been dying for what we believe for thousands of years because we have found that in Christ there is such joy and peace that we would never want to live without it.

Now the time has come for those of us who have been spared martyrdom to possibly risk our own lives for Christ.  It is only a matter of time, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, before the world does come to our doorstop with their hatred for Christians.   Pray for boldness.

Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Couch or the Pew

And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.  But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:7-8

I discovered something yesterday while cleaning up my hermit crab cage.  I have a device that I plug one of the tank heating mats into which allows the mat to be controlled by the temperature in the crabitat.  When the temperature drops below a preset level, the mat is given power by the device to reheat the crabitat.  They require it to be around 78 degrees to be comfortable that they roam around the tank. 
I’d noticed they were not roaming around as much as usual, so I tested the heating control device.  What I found was that it was off by 5 degrees.  So if I set it for 78, it had to reach a chilly 73 in the tank for the heating mat to be given power.  In effect, the mat became an “emergency” source of heat, rather than one to keep them comfortable.

I know any of you reading this are wondering where I’m going with this in light of the verse in Acts 1 where Christ told his disciples they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.  Well, it’s a reflection of how we use that power.

Think about the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is God in the Spirit.  What do you think the Holy Spirit is capable of doing?  Frankly, I don’t see a limit to the power He has!  But I believe we call upon the Holy Spirit within us more on an emergency basis, when life grows cold and cruel, than when we are warm and comfortable.  Is there any wonder that God brings pain to our lives when we have to be brought closer to Him through painful times?
Life can either be a race to be won, or a war to be fought. We’ve been given “abundant life” (John 10:10) through the Holy Spirit.  We’ve been given power and authority (Luke 10:18-20).  But through our own selfish will, our own desire to be complacent and cold, we have failed to use His power in our lives.  We prefer the couch to the pew.  We prefer, like hermit crabs, to dig into our cozy little cave rather than seek out the all-consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

I would like to be (future tense) the kind of Christian that would call upon the power of Heaven through the Holy Spirit in me and change the lives of those who fight the war into those who cheerfully run the race.  I would like to know without doubt that my Father God would be excited about how this daughter walks in faith without doubting, rises up against evil, and casts down every idol in her life.  The only thing stopping me is me.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Recognizing the Closed and Open Door


Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” – John 21:3

Often in life we have to make decisions about our future.  The most common has to do with our occupation.  As Christians, we’re told to pray about it and seek God’s will.  But often, it can be hard to hear God’s voice over our own prideful and ambitious voice. 

Simon Peter and five of the other apostles were faced with that very decision after Jesus had died.  In John 21 we find them all gathered at the Sea of Tiberius.  I can just see them sitting there, mourning the loss of their dearest friend, wondering where He had gone having seen Him risen from the dead.  Feeling like it was the end of an era, like the life they had in Christ had ended, Simon makes a move.  He announces “I am going fishing.”  Simon Peter, having been called to follow Jesus when he was fishing in Matthew 4:18, was ready to return to the life he had.

When we leave the life we have in Christ to take an alternate route, we often take others with us.  This was the case with the remaining disciples, who all decided to just fish with Simon Peter.  Yet, there weren’t to be successful fishers.  John tells us that they fished all night and didn’t catch a single fish.  Six guys in a boat all night, and not one fish caught.  Through spiritual eyes, we can see the closed door that God had given to their fishing career.  Yet, Jesus had mercy.

Walking along the shoreline, Jesus calls to them asking “Children, have you any food?”  Children need guidance and discipline.  He intentionally called these grown men children as a reference to their behavior.

They didn’t know who Jesus was, but when He called again to them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat, they did.  The number of fish they caught in a single net on a single throw was more than they could bring into the boat!  Following Jesus’ commands has its blessings!

When they recognized Jesus, Simon jumped into the waters and swam to shore to be with Jesus.  His love for Jesus had not changed, but his will to follow had, and Jesus was there to show him the closed door, and the open door for His life.  The conversation that they had following the meal Jesus cooked for them was to pull Simon Peter back onto the path He was to take.  It is found in John 21:15-17.

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”  He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”

Jesus asked the question “Do you love me?” three times. Simon had earlier denied Him three times.  In Hebrew, anything said three times signifies completeness, a perfection of truth, as a sworn promise.  Each time Simon Peter answered, Jesus showed him His role, the open door he was to take in life. 

“Feed My lambs”, which are those that are young in faith and need guidance and to know the Word.  “Tend My sheep”, which are those that are mature in the faith yet still need guidance and protection from the enemy.  And last, “Feed my sheep”, by giving them the word of God, their daily bread.

Through those three commands, Jesus called Simon Peter to a greater work, and away from fishing.

When we have a decision in life to make, God can provide a closed door – and an open door.  Peter may have been a good fisherman before he met Jesus, but he wasn’t a good fisherman after!  In spite of it being what Peter was comfortable doing, God had closed that door.  God wanted to pull him from his comfort zone into a role that would change lives, and inevitably history itself.  God provided a closed door to fishing, and an open door to ministry.  And thanks to Peter’s obedience, many were saved through his ministry.  Jesus’ lambs and sheep were well fed and well cared for.

Is God calling you out of your comfort zone?  Ask Him to show you the open door, and to close all others.  Ask Him to help you discern His will and His voice.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“Where Two or Three are in Agreement” – Debunking a False Teaching

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” – John 20:21-23
Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” – Matthew 18:19-20

It encourages me to know that God will seek to make His word known to me, and to remove all false teachings that I’ve had cloud my knowledge of Him. 
This past week has been one of great disappointment.  I was taught, and I’m not sure by who or where, that the verse in Matthew 18:19-20 meant that if you ask any thing of God, and are in agreement with “two or three” it would be done.  The verses read “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”  Being under that understanding, I fully expected my sweet friend’s daughter, Marquitta Jacobs, to recover and be healed.  After all, her mother and I were in full agreement that this is what we wanted. 

When that did not happen I became very disappointed in God, very hurt that the pray was not answered.  I wasn’t angry, for who can truly be angry at God when you know He loves you with an unending love?  But I was very disappointed, and confused as to why this promise was broken.
But my God who loves me would never leave me questioning His love.  Today while continuing a long study in John I came to chapter 20:21-23.  God sent me to read my favorite commentator’s thoughts on the verses to determine why we’re allowed to forgive each other’s sins.  Adam Clarke’s commentary then in turn sends me to read comments on Matthew 18:19-20, the verses that were on things being done when two or three are in agreement.  As I read the words, I loathed them.  It felt like salt in an open wound.  But as I read the passage and Adam Clarke’s teaching, I understood.

The fact of the matter is that the verses that are often claimed to hold the key to getting anything you can come to agreement from out of God have been taken completely out of context.  Think about it! If it were true that these verses meant that any two people in agreement for anything on earth could ask God for it and get it – every couple who read it would be millionaires.  Every couple would have children.  The world would be a perfectly imperfect place due to our own selfish wants and wills.  But that is NOT what these verses mean. 
The passage is in regards to forgiving each other here on earth, forgiving each other’s sins, and then God forgiving them as well.  Only God can forgive sins because they are committed ultimately against Him. Yet, we have the power to solicit that forgiveness from God. The entire passage reads:

"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
There is no disconnection of thoughts here.  Jesus is speaking to one audience on one subject – dealing with a fellow Christian who has sinned against you.  In fact, the verses that follow this passage are also about forgiving one another, as Peter then asks “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21).

When verse 19 says that where “two of you agree” and verse 20 says “where two or three are in agreement” it is preceded by verse 16 saying “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established”. The verses are not the handle to the great slot machine of God’s blessings!  The meaning is that if we forgive each other for our harms against each other, then “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”, as the binding of a criminals hands, or “whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” as the freeing of a captive.
But don’t stop there.  The fact is we are to NEVER leave anyone bound.  When Jesus answer’s Peter about how many times he should forgive, he says “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.  Jesus continues by telling the story of a man who was unable to pay a debt, but his master forgave him the debt.  Then the debtor goes out and seeks repayment from someone who owed him money, and then refused to forgive the debt.  Jesus’ words in the parable to the one who would not forgive the sins of his debtors was “ Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” (Matthew 18:33). 
Jesus has forgiven us all, and we are to have compassion on each other and forgive all sins against us as well.  There is never a time when you want to leave a brother or sister “bound” to the sins they have committed against you.  Jesus says in Matthew 18:35 that if you do, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”  Friends, we need God’s forgiveness far too much to allow our bitterness toward each other to condemn ourselves.
The lesson in all this is a simple one.  Read God’s word, and listen to His voice as you do.  His word is true, His promises are eternal, and He will not disappoint you.  Though I don’t have answers for the loss of my friend’s daughter, I know my God is merciful, gracious, long on forgiveness, and loving in all He does. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Glory Left Behind


Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You,  as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.  And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” – John 17:1-5

At Christmas time we often celebrate Christ’s birth by talking about the three wise men and their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  We sing “The Little Drummer Boy”, which isn’t in the Bible, but tells about a little boy who comes to offer Jesus the small token of playing his drum.  But for all the gifts mankind could offer to celebrate His birth, nothing could even cast a shadow on what He gave up just to be born on earth. 

In John 17:5 Jesus is praying and asks the Father to “glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.  Before the world was, Christ was.  John 1:1-3 says the He was with God before the earth was formed, and all things were made through Him.  Imagine the glory an artist gets from creating a beautiful painting.  Think of the glory that Michelangelo received in creating the sculpture of David.  But compared to the glory of creating the world, these are small, small achievements!  Imagine the praise of Angels, singing His name, and worshipping Him.  Yet, none of that was enough to keep Him in Heaven, and allow us to remain separated from Him.
Christ says “this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”  His greatest glory was in providing us with a relationship with God and Himself through His death. Were it not for His death, the Holy Spirit could not come to us (John 16:7).  Were it not for the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, we would not have a relationship with the Father and Christ (Ephesians 1:14). 

The world was made through Jesus Christ.  But Jesus’ greatest creation was our relationship with Him.  This is where He wants to be glorified, and asks God to “glorify Me together with Yourself”.  A love like that is worth a lifetime of worship, giving back the glory that He chose to leave behind.