A Modern Woman's Perspective On The Kingdom of God on Earth

January 20, 2019

The Word Empowered By The Spirit

     Well, Beth Moore is once again the target of her fellow Christians. This time, she has offended Believers with her comments about Bible Study. Here's what she said: "Spending time with God and spending time with the Bible are not the same thing. The Bible is the Word of God, crucial to knowing Him, but it's not God. We can study our Bibles till the Second Coming and leave God completely out of it. We can grow in facts and never grow a whit in faith".
     To begin, I would venture to say that sometimes we Christians react hastily to comments such as this, without first trying to understand the central point that is being made. Secondly, I would also say that we Christians often times don't clarify the point we are trying to make, and can confuse those we are trying to reach. I have been guilty on both counts.
     But let me tell you what I believe Beth Moore's comprehensive position is and why I agree with her. I think most people reading her statement got stuck on the first sentence, and never went any further in trying to determine the point she was attempting to make.  And I have to say that I can see why -- when I am spending time with the Bible, I feel I am hearing from God, so my time is well-spent. But I do not think that I am receiving the fullness of God just by reading the Bible. In other words, I am encountering Him in part through acquiring history of Him, His Nature and His Character -- an intellectual comprehension of who God is. But there is a supernatural empowerment that comes when the Holy Spirit inspires us in the Word. I believe that is what Beth Moore was trying to articulate.
     Let me see if I can explain it this way.... Someone reading the Bible without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is able to capture the meaning of the written word and understand it according to the human mind.  But someone reading the Bible under the inspiration of the Spirit is captured by the Word and is activated to apply it to his or her life. See the difference? In the first instance we are doing the capturing; in the second it is the Word capturing us through the Spirit.
     Where we Christians are coming into so much conflict is when we limit the empowerment of the Word in our study. And I think it is this "middle ground" that Beth Moore was trying to address. You see, our human understanding of the Word is veiled without the Holy Spirit. It is possible that sin [which is inherent in every human being] can get in the way of our mind's discernment. And because we tend to let our religious traditions and group opinion within our denominations determine our interpretation of the Bible, we oftentimes ignore what the Holy Spirit is trying to illuminate in a passage.
     Beth Moore is not trying to devalue Bible Study nor say that God is not speaking to us when we study the Bible. I believe she is trying to say that time spent studying the Bible without the illuminating and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit is leaving an important aspect of God out of the equation. The bigger question she is posing is this: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in Biblical interpretation, and do we allow Him to reveal His Truth?
     If we realize that the Holy Spirit is the "breath of God", breathing life into our souls and spirits, then we can see His importance in comprehending the Bible. The Bible is the written Word of God, and words are spoken with the use of breath. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads, Every Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof and conviction of sin, for correction of error and discipline in obedience, [and] for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose, and action), So that the man of God may be complete and proficient, well fitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work. The Passion Translation actually says, Every Scripture has been written by the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. The rest of that passage articulates that "It will empower you ... to fulfill any assignment God gives you". The Holy Spirit does not try to give a new meaning to the Word of the Bible through how we personally relate to it, but instead, shines His Light into the Word that He wrote so that we can more fully comprehend it.  It is His Light, not our minds or religious traditions that determine the Truth of the Bible!
     I will finish by commenting on Beth Moore's last sentence .... "We can grow in facts and never grow a whit in faith". And I think this is the point on which I agree the most. We can study the Bible and accumulate mountains of information about faith -- but never be empowered in and by faith to act for God's purpose. But if we do as Jesus commanded ... "Have faith in God", we can actually move mountains. Faith is not just knowing, but doing.  And it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to do.
     I believer the Apostle Paul expressed the heart of Beth Moore's argument when he wrote, "so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God". We are sometimes guilty of studying the Bible without inviting the presence of the power of God [the Holy Spirit]. I'm sorry, but I believe that to be true! 
     I will grant that Beth Moore's words were controversial and subject to different interpretations. But she made her position quite clear when she followed up her original remarks with the following statement: "... People who study the Scriptures constantly and are continually mean-spirited, rude, slanderous and aside [of] their religious rhetoric, bereft of outward evidences of the Holy Spirit are having Bible study without God. He affects us." Perhaps it is time that we, the Body of Christ, examine ourselves. Are we being impacted by outward evidences of the power of God when we study the Bible? Are we allowing the breath of God to move us from continuing in our man-made religious traditions to acting in faith from God's perspective? Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to show us the meaning of our study, or are we relying on, as Paul says, "the wisdom of men"?  If not, then we are studying from our human intellect. 
     Don't you want to know and understand the things of God from a personal, active, and empowered basis? I know I do. And I know that I can only apply the Word of God in my life with the help of the Holy Spirit. So, I was not offended by Beth Moore's comments. Not at all. It only made me more determined to seek the Spirit's help whenever I sit down to study. Bible study without God is not an option.

1 Corinthians 2:14   "Someone living on an entirely human level rejects the revelations of God’s Spirit, for they make no sense to him. He can’t understand the revelations of the Spirit because they are only discovered by the illumination of the Spirit".


January 17, 2019

A Testimony: God's Gift Of Grace

     It is not very often that I feel compelled to share a testimony about someone Jesus has brought into our life; someone that Mark and I did not anticipate meeting, nor would have thought could be so gloriously set free. But this is such a story of redemption and hope that I believe everyone needs to hear it.
     Although I doubt that anyone reading this would know this person or his story, I would still like to afford them some privacy and have changed the names of those involved. It is a story of two brothers whose lives have taken decidedly different turns, but who, by the grace of God, are now walking the same path.
     David is the younger brother and had suffered drug addiction to meth for over 35 years. It had cost him much -- marriages, his family, and both self-respect and respect in the community. Sadly his story was far too common in the community in which he lived and grew up. There is a darkness that hangs over the town and, frankly, a principality that controls many such small towns in this nation; and drugs and drug addiction are often what the dark side use to control the inhabitants. David's story is no different than many others who have succumbed to the temptation of drugs.
     Robert is the older brother who had beat his own demons of alcohol in his youth, and had surrendered his life to Jesus, and is happily married to a godly and spirit-filled woman. The two of them, just like Mark and myself, had been called to study and train in deliverance ministry. Robert had been faithfully praying for years for his brother, seeing no improvement, but never giving up. And then one night, the devil came calling.
     Robert received a phone call from David, and he was desperate! A demon was tormenting him in his bed and he was crying out to Robert for help. Robert instructed him to get in his truck and to drive over to his [Robert's] house, praying for him over the phone as David drove. At one point, Robert called Mark and asked if we could come to his house and help him get David free. As anyone who is in Deliverance Ministry knows, it is often more difficult to get family members free than others. We were 45 minutes away but agreed to come. All this while, the demon is attacking David as he is driving, trying to pull his fingers off the steering wheel and battering him about the head.
     By the time we walked into Robert's house, David was sitting there with his head tipped back, nursing a bloody nose. There was a lot of blood on his shirt and it was obvious he had been in both a spiritual and physical battle. Mark asked him how long he had been clean of drugs and he admitted he had used just the previous day. We asked him if he was truly ready to be set free from this addiction, and explained that it was by accepting Jesus and participating with Him and the Holy Spirit that he could be delivered. He said he was just tired of the burden of the addiction and yes, he wanted Jesus to set him free.
     I will tell you that this Deliverance session was not done in our usual mode. We didn't have the time to spend talking to David during our usual "discovery period" to get to know him or try to make him comfortable in the process. We just went right after the legal authority that had given the Enemy the right to tempt him with drugs and keep him in bondage. We led David to remember a couple of happy times in his childhood so that he could see [in the spirit] that Jesus was there with him. Thankfully, he had no problem in seeing or with realizing that Jesus would never leave him nor forsake him. Then, wasting no time, we asked him what was the heaviest thing he was carrying around in his "spiritual backpack". Once we had identified the one event which had opened the door for the Enemy to torment him, we invited Jesus into that memory and David wept as he perceived that Jesus had not abandoned him. He allowed Jesus to walk him out of that realm where his childhood part was being held captive, and he watched Jesus destroy it and cover it with His blood.
     Jesus then, one-by-one, put the spirits of shame, guilt, anger, self-rejection, addiction, etc. under His foot and David saw him send them where Jesus wanted them to go. This probably took 10-15 minutes and you could see the weight coming off David as he wept, continually thanking Jesus for helping him. By that time, we could see that David was exhausted -- both emotionally and physically. So we decided to shut this "emergency session" down for the time being. We bound any other spirits that had been assigned to torment him and poured the blood of Jesus over the victory of that session. We then spent the next 20-30 minutes speaking into David, telling him how much Jesus loved him, and that Jesus had died for him; died to set him free from that 35+ years of addiction to a drug that was destroying the Temple where Jesus wanted to reside -- in David's heart. He wept again, thanking His Savior and surrendering his heart to Him. We then told him how precious he was to Jesus and that it was up to him to continue this journey by walking with Jesus every step of the way. We also encouraged him by stating that his testimony could help others get set free from drug addiction. David declared that he was tired of the drug life and would walk a different path from that day forward.
      It was a beautiful picture to see this man, who an hour before, was bruised and battered by demon's trying to destroy his life, sitting at the table weeping in thankfulness to the Lord and saying he was different now. To be honest, I'm not sure Robert believed that a miracle had taken place because he had prayed for so long for his brother, only to see him promise to stay clean and then slip back into the darkness. So we all watched....
     A week went by and David was still clean. He continued to call Robert, proclaiming his love for Christ and his desire to share what His Deliverer had accomplished in his life. Soon Robert was receiving phone calls from other family members and friends, asking what had happened to David. "He's telling everybody he knows that Jesus set him free"! Two weeks went by and David was still on his "Jesus high", telling anyone who would listen what Jesus had done for him. A month went by, and he asked Robert to do a Bible study with him, and once a week Robert has been discipling David in developing a real relationship with Jesus.
     It has now been over two months and David is still clean, and hungering for more of Jesus. He is still doing a Bible study with Robert each week and regularly reading his Bible. He is telling all of his former drug-user friends that Jesus can set them free and they no longer have to be in bondage. For the first time in his adult life, he has hope that he can make something of himself -- and he wants to share with everyone the Good News of Jesus Christ! In fact, he recently posted this on his Facebook page ... People are placed in your life for a reason. God is working on all of us in many different ways in our life's journey. God chose and prepared my brother [Robert] to be His disciple and to walk in faith. Robert, along with Mark and Pam, destroyed my demons and helped save my soul through Jesus Christ. If your soul is in trouble and your demons are controlling you, I know some people, who know some people, who can help save your soul, too. Trust in Jesus Christ. Amen.  
     I couldn't have said it any better myself. And the best part? I know this isn't the end of David's story. I believe he has a testimony that is destined to change lives! He has defeated the devil in his life -- something no one really believed he could do; maybe not even Robert. BUT, Robert did believe in the healing power of Jesus Christ, so he was faithful in praying for his brother's deliverance, and more than 30 years later, he saw the victory! So, please never give up on your loved one! Because the Enemy is hoping you will. But you should know that the Father will wait out your loved one; wait until he or she is ready to surrender their demons to Him, and then just like David, He will save their soul.
     I am eagerly expecting and anticipating that the hold drugs have held over the small towns in our area will soon be broken, and all because one man continued to pray faithfully for 30 years for his brother. Those prayers resulted in his brother trusting him when he hit bottom and was ready to let Jesus in to heal him. Then that brother, in his thankfulness and gratitude is shining a pinpoint of Light into the darkness in his community. And that's all Jesus needs -- for us to be an instrument of His Light in the dark, and He can work miracles. Just ask David.

1 Peter 5:10   "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."

January 14, 2019

"There The Vultures (Eagles) Will Gather"

     As I have stated numerous times [and in the preceding blog post] I believe the Holy Spirit truths of the Bible are Spirit-revealed as we diligently dig into the Word to really know our God. And so, as I'm involved in a Bible study on the Book of Matthew, I found my spirit examining the passage in Chapter 24 that describes the detestable idol erected in the Holy of Holies that brings judgment from God upon mankind.
     Historically known as "the Abomination of Desolation, as spoken of by the prophet Daniel", I could focus on the events of this offensive, unholy, and frankly, beastly, sacrilege in the Temple. But I want to look at the culmination of this desecration, and the curious verses that describe the consequences ... For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather (Matthew 24:27-28).
     If you're like me, you have the obvious understanding of verse 27; that is, it describes the appearance of Jesus at His Second Coming. But what does it have to do with verse 29 and the statement about corpses and vultures? Does the Bible mention this anywhere else, and does it give us more clues as to the "bigger picture" of this future time that Jesus tells us we should understand? In fact other versions of the Bible tell us we should "take notice and ponder and consider and heed; learn about" this Abomination of Desolation and what will follow.
     As a matter of fact, Luke also writes [in Chapter 17] about the "Son of Man's day" in which "the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other".  While Luke doesn't focus on the detestable event in the Temple, he does describe what it will be like "in the days of the Son of Man"... it will be just as it was in the days of Noah, when the flood came; and as it was in the days of Lot, when fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all -- "so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed." 
     Luke then goes on to describe something that I propose has been misunderstood. Luke cautions them to "Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.  I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left.  There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”  These verses are often used in conjunction with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 which describes the Lord descending from heaven with a shout and command and the faithful will be caught up in the air with Him; i.e., the Rapture. But both Matthew and Luke refer to the corpses and the gathering of vultures, which the Rapture passage in 1 Thessalonians does not mention. So let me explain why I think there is more to discern about "the day of the Son of Man" that has been misunderstood in Matthew and Luke, and why I do not think it refers to "the Rapture". 

     First of all, as I have already stated, the passages in Matthew and Luke are prefaced with accounts of grievous sin ---1)  the desecration of the Temple ("his forces shall pollute the sanctuary, the [spiritual] stronghold [Temple], and shall take away the continual [daily burnt offering]; and they shall set up [in the sanctuary] the abomination that astonishes and makes desolate [probably an altar to a pagan god]" -- Daniel 11:31);  2) the grievous sins in the days of Noah ("The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them" -- Genesis 6:4); and 3) the serious sins in the days of Lot (" just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire" -- Jude 1:7).
     And what were the results of these sins against our holy God? In Noah's day, God said He would destroy man with the earth (the Flood). In Lot's day, it was a righteous punishment of sulfur and fire from heaven. And, in Matthew, what does Jesus tell us will happen when the Abomination of Desolation [that occurred in Daniel] happens in the End Days? He gives lots of instructions about the people who will be living in Jerusalem at that time. And then He speaks of a time of "great tribulation" and a time of "false christs and false prophets [who] will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect." Then comes the declaration of the "coming of the Son of Man" and the verse about those corpses and the gathering of vultures. It all sounds like JUDGMENT to me!
     Furthermore, I think it is important that we consider that the reason Jesus mentions the "Son of Man" is that it is His title pertaining to His taking back the dominion of the Earth (remembering that man was given dominion of the earth in Genesis 1:26). And here's a possible understanding of why He follows that sentence with "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather" ... it is to be found in Matthew 16:27: "For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done." In both Matthew and Luke, the references to His appearance tell us He will be coming in judgment, and the result will be similar to the judgment in the days of Noah and Lot. Hence the bodies and vultures that will gather. These verses are not to be confused with His coming mentioned in 1 Thessalonians, which is addressed to those who "believe that Jesus died and rose again" (1 Thessalonians 4:14). In Matthew and Luke, the Bible is speaking about [and to] wicked and evil people. In 1 Thessalonians, it is a message of hope and encouragement to Believers. That is why there are no corpses and vultures.

     Remember that Matthew and Luke are speaking of how the coming of the Son of Man compare to similar events of wickedness. The confusion and misunderstanding comes from Luke's reference to "One will be taken and the other left" being united with 1 Thessalonians 4:17, "Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord." Matthew and Luke clearly show that they are referring to a time of judgment, while 1 Thessalonians is clearly about the Rapture. The "taking and leaving" in one do not support those who are left in the other.
     And in case you are interested in considering more, take a look at Job, chapters 38 and 39. God challenges Job to consider His Sovereignty and His Judgment. God counsels Job on the character of arrogant and bold sinners. When they have their hearts set on evil, there is no making them fear the wrath of God. They think they are safe in their sins ... and God describes the near lust for battle that comes upon evil men upon the earth as they go out to "meet the weapons". Yet at the end, what is the picture God paints for Job? He describes an eagle mounted high in her nest and stronghold, spying out his prey. "His young ones suck up blood, and where the slain are, there is he". And are you aware that in many versions of the Bible, "vultures" in both Matthew 24:28 and Luke 17:37, is translated as "eagles"? 
     Maybe you are not perplexed by that curious verse in Matthew 24. Maybe the fact that it immediately follows Jesus describing the coming of the Son of Man doesn't seem unusual to you -- it is just another of those unfathomable mysteries of the Bible. But it is just so glaring to me, and in opposition to what I've been taught and understood in the past -- that the Coming of Jesus meant the Rapture -- it just didn't make sense. So, you may not agree with my interpretation of Scripture, or how I related Matthew and Luke's coming of the Son of Man with Judgment, whereas the coming of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians is actually refers to the Rapture. That's OK with me. I just hope that you find it worthwhile to dig deep into the Bible. I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and that the Holy Spirit inspires us to dig in; to read and reflect; to connect the dots; and then be willing to accept the truth that our study reveals -- rather than rejecting it because it does not conform to our prior understanding or human wisdom. Let us be motivated and energized by the Spirit to love earnest and enthusiastic study of God's manual for godly living and spiritual warfare. And let us never seek to minimize His glory or His Kingdom by limiting our understanding of Him. Let us forever declare His Kingdom and His Power and His Glory!

1 Corinthians 2:4-5     The message I preached and how I preached it was not an attempt to sway you with persuasive arguments but to prove to you the almighty power of God’s Holy Spirit. For God intended that your faith not be established on man’s wisdom but by trusting in His almighty power.

January 11, 2019

Maintenance or Transformation?

     As Christians, we have decisions to make. What are we going to believe is probably the biggest one that will influence our faith walk. I don't mean to trivialize the gift of salvation or the Gospel message -- I am assuming that we are all in agreement that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, come in the flesh to sacrifice His life for ours and to fulfill God's desire to be reconciled with us for eternity. Anyone who calls themselves a Christian must believe in this doctrine.
     But as we [hopefully] mature in our faith, there are often times that we Christians find ourselves in disagreement over interpretation or revelation from the Bible. Ideally, I would hope that we could agree to disagree [in love] while still being willing to have an open dialogue and share in what we discern the Word and the Spirit are telling us.
     That is where determining what we believe is so important to our journey with Jesus in faith. We must always use the Bible as our "go to" source; it is the Word of God; it is a picture of His Nature. And we cannot discern Him by cherry-picking verses. Rather, we are better served by stepping back and getting the "big picture".
     There are so many ways that man has attempted to define God by his [man's] own standards. But, by seeking Him in His Word, it is indisputable that He is Spirit; He is Light; He is Love; and in both His love and judgment, He is a Consuming Fire. And if I am made in His image, then I should be desiring to become all those things, too.
     Speaking for myself, I spent too many years satisfied in accepting the tenets and doctrines of the denomination I belonged to. Not that they were wrong, or I have rejected them! I was just so limited in my understanding of who God was and His purpose for my life. I just didn't spend time in the Word, trying to meet God in what the inspired writers recorded. I was locked into "maintenance" mode, if you will, rather than pursuing God to reveal more of Himself and transform my life.
     Perhaps I didn't feel qualified to seek more since I had come to my faith late in life. But as I write this, I am struck with the thought that the Bible is just that .... the place that we meet God; where we are introduced to Him. But if I truly want to know Him, doesn't that require that I go a step or two further -- ask Him questions, seek more knowledge about Him, and develop a real relationship with Him? And the Bible is where we start to do that! It is where we gain insight about God and what He desires our relationship to be. It is where we get insight from men who shared their encounters with Him and their growth in relationship and knowledge. Remember, they didn't have a carefully constructed canon to base their faith upon; their knowledge came from experience with God! And it transformed their lives! I want the same thing! Is that wrong?
     I know there are Christians who fear straying too far from accepted [or strict] interpretations of the Bible. I respect that. I never want my human mind to determine God's "big picture". But I also don't want to diminish Him or confine Him to a box called "religion". I want to allow my spirit to receive knowledge and counsel from the Holy Spirit, since it is the Spirit that reveals God to us. I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote in the Epistle to the Colossians. He wrote to them to put off the old self and put on the new; that they were to seek the things from above where Christ was, seated at the right hand of the Father. They were to set their minds on things from above, not on things of this earth. They were to put to death everything that had become their idol, and everything that separated them from God. They were to "put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator" (Colossians 3:10).
     But have some of us made idols of our religious doctrines? At the same time, I would also caution us not to be tempted by every new "prophet" or philosophy or teaching that makes sense to our rational minds. The Bible is to be discerned in the spirit; relying on the Holy Spirit to reveal the truths [that God wants imparted] to grow us into understanding and becoming more like Him.
     Peter encourages the followers of Christ with a request that "grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus, our Lord". He goes on to say, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence". And how are grace and peace to be multiplied? By the empowerment of the Holy Spirit! Paul confirms this when he writes to the Corinthians: " For we did not receive the spirit of this world system but the Spirit of God, so that we might come to understand and experience all that grace has lavished upon us. And we articulate these realities with the words imparted to us by the Spirit and not with the words taught by human wisdom. We join together Spirit-revealed truths with Spirit-revealed words. Someone living on an entirely human level rejects the revelations of God’s Spirit, for they make no sense to him. He can’t understand the revelations of the Spirit because they are only discovered by the illumination of the Spirit. Those who live in the Spirit are able to carefully evaluate all things, and they are subject to the scrutiny of no one but GodFor who has ever intimately known the mind of the Lord Yahweh well enough to become His counselor? Christ has, and we possess Christ’s perceptions."
     Why is it so hard for some Christians to think that Believers today can also join together Spirit-revealed truths with the Spirit-revealed Word? I recognize that there are other Christians [whom I know have their hearts sealed with the Holy Spirit] who will not agree with me that there is more to God's Word than what is on the written page. I also recognize that they will judge me wrong for perceiving something different than what they have been taught. And please do not misunderstand me ... I do not hold myself more righteous or greater in the Kingdom of God. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the pages of the Bible, granting them greater understanding of His supernatural purpose for their life. I would never force my understanding upon another Christian, respecting their journey and where they are with the Holy Spirit. But neither do I accept condemnation for moving forward in the Spirit's revelations to my spirit. When I read the Bible, I know I am reading a supernatural Book and I expect to receive supernatural revelations from the Holy Spirit.
     One of the gifts of the Spirit is Wisdom. This is the Holy Spirit acting upon our faculty of reasoning and our free will; instilling within us an attraction to the divine nature of God. But here's where our human nature comes in. We can choose to discern [from our spirit and heart, where the Holy Spirit resides] to respond to that attraction and calling, or we can fear being deceived; not trusting our spirit to discern the invitation of the Spirit to grow in understanding. That is a choice each one of us must make! And it saddens me that it can cause separation within the Body of Christ. 
     But the bottom line is this: Knowledge and understanding of God are a huge part of faith in Him. It is incumbent upon us to know who He is if we are to become like Him. To me, that means seeking counsel and wisdom and understanding from the Holy Spirit to reveal God's supernatural intention of His Word. Remember, we have access to the Logos Word, which is the constant, written word of God; the Bible. We learn about Him and His ways through strictly interpreting this written word. And then there is the Rhema Word, which I can best describe as God personally speaking to us through the Holy Spirit's revelation of the written word. We benefit from receiving the Rhema word in our hearts as a consequence of reading the written word with our minds. 
      Both are crucial to our Christian lives, and God's "living" word always corresponds to His written word. I believe the more time we spend reading and praying in the Logos word, our hearts will be opened and our spirits will be exercised in the Rhema Word. It is my prayer that all Christians would be open to the possibility that there is growth in understanding God and His Word. We may not always agree, but if we have the Holy Spirit in us there is nothing to fear. He will guide us and counsel us. And I believe He delights in seeing us pursue more intimate knowledge and understanding of God. If you decide that you are satisfied in your level of knowledge, then I will support you, just as I would hope you would encourage me to receive more Spirit-revealed truth, if I so choose. And I join Peter in praying that grace and peace would be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus, our Lord.

Philippians 1:9    And this I pray: that your love may abound yet more and more and extend to its fullest development in knowledge and all keen insight [that your love may display itself in greater depth of acquaintance and more comprehensive discernment] ...  

January 9, 2019

Trying To Understand "The Church"

     I recently read an article on the state of the Church, and I'd like to share the author's viewpoint, sprinkled with my own thoughts. This author wrote an article trying to explain why "people are leaving the church in droves" -- his quote, not mine. I'm always interested to see if the answer comes close to the reason I see so many people disillusioned with attending church (myself included). I was a little taken aback that this writer seemed to think most people pointed their finger at the lead pastor, and he went on to explain why this was merely "scapegoating" the pastor.
     The author suggested that it is important "to be rightly aligned and connected with church leadership". That's all good, if one discerns that the pastor's teaching is rightly aligned with Scripture. And being "connected" with the pastor can be a vague concept. Too often, I have seen that modeled as an inner circle that supports leadership, no matter what; regardless of how it might effect individual members or the church body as a whole. And sadly, far too often, there is a distinct separation between the "connected" and the "unconnected" -- a social order, so to speak.
     The author did say that he has no problem, himself, rocking the boat and challenging systems, motives and traditions that exist within the local church, while with honor and wisdom, advocating for reform. I agree. He goes on to say that he believes too many people leaving today's churches do so by surrendering their responsibilities as members of the Body of Christ, and become accuser's of leadership, and end up in hibernation. He then ridicules the idea that they can still "be the church" by making the statement, "You can't be the church if you don't go to church". That seems, to me, to be attaching the idea of "church" to a building, and I'm afraid that is where I have to wholeheartedly disagree with this author.
     In fact, what I have observed are Christians that have stepped in to their unique callings to exhibit the power of the Word in their lives; a move that was hindered under the authority of church leadership. The role of the Holy Spirit in people's lives was not recognized if it didn't align with church doctrine or traditions. And far from hibernating, these empowered Christians are actually "doing church" in their communities and seeing their territory expand as God uses them to continue the work of Christ in the nations. 
      We are all familiar with the Greek term ekklesia, from which we get our English word "church". It literally means "assembly", "congregation", or "meeting". It is important that we recognize that to New Testament believers, the word "church" never referred to a synagogue, temple, chapel, tabernacle, building or any other meeting place. The term always referred to the Christian assembly and, in the New Testament, it was used for both the local community of believers and the overall collection of Christians. It referred to the people!
     This is where a second author comes in. In this additional article, the writer points out that, from the beginning, the idea of "church" was dynamic. In other words, it was characterized by constant change, activity, or progress. He writes, "Never a prisoner of buildings, we see the church [an assembly of people believing in Jesus and His teachings] meeting in the temple, in a synagogue, in the street, beside the sea, in public places, and often in homes. The Book of Acts describes a community of faith in constant movement: “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved”. 
     Do our churches of today look like this dynamic picture? Or is it more correct to say that some of them are static -- unchanging, lifeless, and without power? I do not speak of this situation lightly. I have been a member for 20 years in a 5,000-member church; a member in a small 150-member rural church; and attended a small community church [without feeling I needed to sign on the dotted line to qualify as one of Jesus's own]. I have sincerely loved much of the community in each of these church buildings. But, as I look back over my "church history", I can see that with each move, God was growing and maturing my faith and understanding of Him, as well as my place in the Body of Christ. And each move came with new insight as to what the ekklesia is supposed to look like.
     Author One maintains that there needs to be a system for a pastor to effectively lead a church; that he doesn't have time to befriend everyone in his congregation. In fact, he writes, "So, if your church has more than five people attending, chances are the pastor simply won't have room for another close friend [meaning you]... Smart leaders will invest mostly in those who have proven themselves faithful." ... [Does that mean "faithful to Jesus" or "loyal to the pastor"? Just wondering.] ... The writer goes on, "Jesus devoted himself to 12, and then at a closer level to three. Pastors will hang with those who share his vision, who are fierce defenders of the church and who don't exhibit selfish tendencies. The pastor has a serious call of God to lead the church into an impossible vision, and he needs people around him who will empower that vision. If you are dead weight, they will love you, pray for you and do their best to awaken you, but they won't—and shouldn't—be close friends with you." I guess that all depends on what the vision is and what it looks like being empowered. Does it look like Jesus? Or is it fraught with human undertones and motivation? And I seriously wonder who that pastor defines as dead weight? People that don't agree with him?
      Wow! That really bothered me. Pastors will hang with those who share his vision ... Boy, have I seen that discourage more than one believer who was looking to be equipped to walk out Jesus's vision, which didn't quite coincide with the pastor's perspective. And that brings me to this point ... Author One wrote, "[A pastor's] mandate is mostly to pray and study the Word". Is that what the Bible says? Doesn't Scripture say that Jesus gave pastors "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes". Praying and studying the Word should be routine for every Christian.
     Isn't it the job of pastors to equip and train us to walk out [in power] Jesus's commission; to be fierce defenders of the faith and to encourage us in our individual callings for God and His Kingdom? I understand the tremendous drain of time and energy that must accompany a pastor's calling -- Mark and I are experiencing it on a much smaller level with our own ministry. But when you say"Yes" to God doesn't that come with the territory? Author One decries all the demands on a pastor's life -- visiting people in the hospital, counseling members of his congregation, answering the phone at all hours of the night, and meeting all the needs of his flock. He says that there should be assigned a team that takes care of all that so that the pastor can spend his time on his knees. 

       But, if Jesus is our model, didn't He do it all? Visiting the sick and dying, counseling those who sought Him, and meeting the needs of His flock? Yes, it started out as just twelve, but the Bible tells us of the crowds that followed Him everywhere. And, yes, He needed to remove Himself from time to time and revive and refresh His body, soul, and spirit. But He never turned down anyone who came to Him in faith. We are to continue that commitment to the Body, bearing much fruit in our community with each other.

     As much as I disagree with Author One on many of his points, I do agree with him on this: "We need a new breed of leader...". Although he still maintains that there should be a team that takes care of the people, I would like to hear him say that this team does not replace the pastor, but supplements his care and guidance. I do agree with him when he says that pastors today should focus on "meeting with God, getting wrecked in His presence, gaining powerful revelation in the Word and, as a result, stand behind the pulpit with fire in their eyes and a tremble in their spirit."
     If they did that, I truly believe that you would find less people leaving the church buildings. In fact, I would love to find a community of believers with a dynamic pastor that challenged me to be who I am in Christ; who encouraged me "go out" and minister to the nations; and who trained me how to grow into unity and maturity in Christ. But even though I do not currently attend a church building, I do not feel separated or less of a follower of Jesus than my brethren who choose to attend weekly services. On the contrary, I love communing with them and sharpening each other's faith by sharing what God is revealing to us -- inside and outside the building. 
     For, I believe as Jesus forecast, and Author Two acknowledges, "the gates of Hades will not overpower it [the church]". I believe that we individuals who are walking a lonelier road are no less working for the Kingdom than those who can claim fellowship with hundreds and thousands. I see community being built among those who have left the church; community that is waking up to new revelation straight from the Holy Spirit and who is walking it out together; boldly and confidently. We are recognizing the need [and commission from Jesus, of course] to disciple new believers; to be examples and inspiration of how to live our lives. And most of all, we are understanding just how much Jesus loves His church -- every one of us! This is no time for division based on man's traditions. We are all members of Christ's Body. Let us each be true to our calling and work together to bring about God's divine plan for humanity. Go! Be the Church, anywhere and everywhere!

1 Peter 2:5           Come and be his “living stones” who are continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God. For now you serve as holy priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices that He readily accepts through Jesus Christ.  

January 6, 2019

Our Sanctified Imaginations

     Whenever Mark and I receive one of God's Beloveds into our home to participate with Jesus and the Holy Spirit in an Inner Healing session, one of the most important factors in the success of that session is the Beloved's theology. What does he or she understand about God? Since there are always underlying experiences in a person's life that have led to spiritual pain and wounds, it is paramount that we all comprehend the "spiritual mechanics" by which both the Most High God and our Adversary operate.
     Most of us are familiar with Paul's exhortation in Ephesians 6 to "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil... and in all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." And just what are those flaming darts? How do they affect us, and how do we extinguish them?
     I want to start off by saying that I am not alone in contending that our minds are a battleground. In fact, many books by prominent Christians have been written on the subject. And how many of us can identify with this statement: I know that I have fears concerning _____, and whenever a thought about it pops into my head, I am soon imagining all kinds of bad things happening, before it even starts!"  That's how a fiery dart works. And it can serve to keep you in bondage to fear, guilt, shame, anger, self-rejection or any other of the many accusations the Enemy lodges against you.
     So, here's what perplexes me -- why do so many Christians let the devil use their imaginations against them, yet refuse to engage their imaginations with Jesus and the Holy Spirit to get set free? Just because Satan uses our imaginations for evil doesn't mean that God can't use them for our good! Don't the words of Joseph to his brothers in Egypt apply here -- "what you meant for evil against me, God meant for good"?
     I wholeheartedly agree with Walter Brueggemann, who is an Old Testament scholar and theologian who is widely considered one of the most influential Old Testament scholars of the last several decades. He wrote: “The key pathology of our time, which seduces us all, is the reduction of the imagination, so that we are too numbed, satiated, and co-opted to do serious imaginative work.” We are told that we can't trust our imaginations; that we open ourselves to deception when we use our imaginations. "Guided Imagery" has become the catchphrase of those Christians who think employing our imaginations in spiritual matters is a slippery slope. NOTE: I will agree that man's human imagination is subject to being corrupted when not empowered by and engaged with the Holy Spirit. But that's not what I'm talking about here.
     So let me ask you this ... doesn't our imagination play a huge part in our relationship and revelation of God? Here's how I see it ... YHWH is a Creator God, and from His mind He created the universes and all that is in them, including us. We are made in His image. We resemble Him. We may not have His Divine mind, but we are a reflection of His mind/intellect and the freedom that accompanies it. That's why man can create things, too: art, music, and plays for instance. And why we can tell you the color of our spouse's eyes; visualize the snow-capped Rockie Mountains; and describe the brilliance of an ocean sunset -- when we are not in any of their presence!
     And you want to know why it is imperative that Christians use their imaginations? Because we worship "the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see" (1 Timothy 6:15-16). Can you honestly tell me that you have never used your imagination when worshiping or "thinking upon" Jesus? Even if you only picture a familiar rendition of what He looked like, you must use your imagination to see that image in your mind. 
     The dictionary defines the word imagination this way: the action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses. And this is exactly the purpose behind Jesus using parables to teach His disciples. He was challenging them to lead a new way of life by hearing His "story", thinking about it, and applying it. It is impossible to understand the Parable of the Sower without using your imagination to "see" the different types of ground and what happened to the planted seed in each of the scenarios, and what that might mean in your faith walk.
     And that is how your imagination can be used in receiving Inner Healing. When we ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be present, the Beloved can picture what was once a wounding experience and see it as a healing event when Jesus walks into that experience. We know that He was there ... He told us that He would never leave us nor forsake us. So by seeing the reality of that truth -- instead of the lie the Enemy has been telling you all these years -- God allowed it to happen; God didn't care about what you were going through; God abandoned you in that moment -- the Beloved can receive a new image of that experience in the Light of God's love. What Satan once used to keep the Beloved in bondage is now seen as an act of being set free! The devil can no longer torment the Beloved in that memory because the pain of that wound has been replaced by the presence of Jesus in the memory and then sealed with His blood. What was once an open, painful sore in the mind, heart and spirit is now a scar; and scars don't hurt.
     Is the imagination "guided" towards healing in this scenario? Often the healing is spontaneous and instantaneous. But if it is guided at all, it is guided by the Holy Spirit. I believe God has given us His gift of imagination, and I have been blessed to witness Him speaking into that gift through the Holy Spirit, who guides a Beloved to receive the healing that only Jesus can bring.
     In conclusion, I want to say this about using our imaginations to hear from God. One of the most beautiful and inspiring Psalms in the Bible is Psalm 23. Strictly speaking [and without using our imagination] we can say it is a poem about God caring for us the way a shepherd cares for his sheep. But I can, in no way, discern the immeasurable love and power of God in those six short verses without using my imagination. Yes, my spirit can recognize the truth of the words, but it is my God-given imagination that allows my human mind to picture the green pastures and still waters of His provision and peace; my God-given imagination that speaks to my human heart that I have nothing to fear -- not even Death; and it is my God-given imagination that extracts the truth my spirit already knows ... I have an eternal inheritance awaiting me. 
      So, I will end with this thought ... Yes, we can know about Christ and God and the Holy Spirit by sticking strictly to the written Word and understanding it with our logical and reasoning mind. But to know Them is a different story. Knowing about Them and knowing Them are too different things. And I believe that we were created to tap into the creativity of the Godhead by using our imagination, the gateway into Their Presence. It is my prayer that you will reflect upon God and His goodness towards us, being open to revelations that God wants to share with you. Ask Him to sanctify your mind unto His and to use your imagination to glorify Him in the world. You do not have because you do not ask. It's time to ask. 

 Philippians 4:7    "Then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ". [As translated from the Aramaic. The Greek is “guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.”]

January 3, 2019

Staying Awake In Spiritually Tense Times

     If you are a follower of Jesus, it's only natural as we enter a new year to contemplate if the prophecies of the Bible [regarding the return of Christ] will begin to see their fulfillment. Yes, I understand that we are not to know the day or hour, but we are told to "stay awake" and "be ready" so that the thief will not undermine God's gracious plan for humanity.
     I must tell you that I don't obsess over the timeline of the Anti-Christ's appearance, nor am I preoccupied with looking for specific "signs" that forecast the End Times. But, as an ambassador for God behind enemy lines, I would be negligent if I didn't pay attention to what's going on in the world, and our nation, with a spiritually discerning eye.
     Jesus has a lot to say in Matthew 24 about how we are to conduct ourselves until His return; I believe both as individuals and as a nation. In verse 45 He says, "Who is the one qualified to oversee the master’s house? He will be a reliable servant who is wise and faithful, one He can depend on. The master will want to give him the responsibility of overseeing others in His house, for His servant will lead them well and give them food at the right time."
     As believers in Jesus, we are to be wise and faithful in our service to Him and the Father's Kingdom. But can you also see that this applies to the leaders of our country, who are responsible for overseeing this nation? I know there are a lot of people in this country praying for our nation and for our elected President. And whether you voted for him or not, I'm sure you are familiar with what Romans 13:1 has to say on this subject: Let every person be loyally subject to the governing (civil) authorities. For there is no authority except from God [by His permission, His sanction], and those that exist do so by God’s appointment. 
     That may be difficult to digest, especially when we see so much going on in our country that seems ... well, so not what would be pleasing to God. Are you like me, and find yourself asking these questions ... Could God really be orchestrating the government of the United States? Or has He totally abandoned us because we first abandoned Him?
     It is not hard to see some of the things the Bible warns us about -- the anti-God rebellion of ancient Babylon will once again become a world system as we get closer to Jesus's return. Ancient Babylon promoted a common language and social unity; and a universal economic and political unity, as well. If you look closely -- if you are awake and ready and watching -- you can see the similarities of this Biblical prophecy and the efforts of the world political and religious leaders to promote economic globalization, and an ecumenical and universal faith. All this leads to a breeding ground for the rise of the Anti-Christ spirit.
     Let me be clear that I am not advocating that we recognize our current political leaders as working under the authorization or with the approval of God. The Lord knows I am not qualified to make that judgment. Only He knows if His plans and purposes are being accomplished by our elected leaders. What I do know is that we Christians need to do our part to prepare ourselves and our nation to be aligned with His purposes and what is dear to His heart. 
     For me that means being His servant and overseeing the commission He has left for me in the spheres where I have influence. It means being His instrument as He continues to set the captives free from their bondage to Satan. It means encouraging the Body of Christ to walk in their power and authority, instead of a powerless form of godliness. While I trust God to have His hand in our political and economic futures, I'm not focused on that aspect of the world. Instead, I am committed to being alert to the spiritual signposts that indicate the promises of the Bible, while fulfilling the assignment(s) He has given me. 
     Yes, the calendar page has turned and we have entered a new year. Our culture celebrates that milepost as the start of a new beginning. My flesh acknowledges the commencement of another year, but my spirit is crying out for the end to the rule by the god of this world. So, in this time of new resolutions, let us resolve to examine our hearts and service to our Lord; and let us ask God how to respond in prayer to what our spirits discern is a growing anti-God climate in the world. Let our commitment to God's Kingdom continue to grow as our field of labor expands and impacts our world.

Matthew 24:26    What joy and blessing will come to that faithful servant when the master comes home to find him serving with excellence!

December 31, 2018

We Serve A God Of New Beginnings

     Tomorrow we begin a new year. I can remember being a little girl and the thought of 2019 would have seemed like a lifetime away. In reality, it has been. I would like to say that I have lived a life well-spent, but the truth is that I have some regrets. I have not always lived a life pleasing to God. Yet His Word tells me that It is because of the Lord’s lovingkindnesses [mercies] that we are not consumed, because His [tender] compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great and beyond measure is Your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).
     Here's the thing I want everyone to know: If you are stuck in the past and can't move forward, God does not want you to stay there. By His grace and mercy, He has given us a way to have a new beginning and receive a new identity. Of course faith in Christ is at the center of a new beginning, but it is not a guarantee that you will live a sinless life. We are human, but that should never become an excuse. We are called to grow into the very image of Christ, and that means living righteously. But God is a God of second chances when we confess our sins and repent. And as we move forward, He does not want us to look back. That only gives the Enemy the right to taunt us with our failures and mistakes.

     Take a look at that Scripture again ... each morning is a new day with God; a new start and a new beginning to make progress towards a life that abides wholly in Him. This is a promise of deliverance from captivity by the Enemy, and of remaining in the presence of God, Himself. I know that may sound impossible if you are ending 2018 in pain. This year I have seen many people I love deal with failing health, failing marriages, and failing hope; it just seems that others, or their bodies, or God have let them down. And I'm sure there are those of you who are disappointed in yourselves, thinking that there is no future or way to move forward in your goals, including your relationship with God.  But that is NOT what the Word says!
     The Bible says in Lamentations that we have access to the Lord's mercy and compassion and faithfulness towards us. Whose fault is it if we don't take advantage of that, or walk in faith towards that truth?  I will admit that we fight a spiritual battle against an enemy that seeks to steal, kill, or destroy our hope, joy, and faith. He is too often successful in getting us to listen to the lies he whispers. But we have been given spiritual armor to effectively fight that battle. And as I've heard more than one pastor point out, there's not a piece of that armor that is positioned on our back -- it is all for our forward progress!  Looking back at our past mistakes and failures only serves to keep us from the new beginning and identity God wants to give us!
     The Bible gives us some good examples of people who overcame failure [or disappointment] to become who God created them to be. Joseph was solid into slavery by his brothers, accused of rape, and served undeserved time in prison, yet he never abandoned his loyalty and faith in God, nor stewardship of the leadership skills he possessed. Because he never lost faith that God's promises remain true, Joseph found himself in a position of influence where God could use him for His glory.
     If there ever was a man who suffered disappointment in his life, with no reason for hope, it was Job. He had it all, and then lost everything that this world measures as success. He lost his wealth, his family, and his health. The world tells him he's a loser and should just quit and die. But, like Joseph, Job remains loyal to who He knows God to be. He just waited [with patience] for God to deliver and restore him, and God does just that, restoring his fortune double-fold. I know that sometimes I look like I don't fit the image of a "winner" to either the world or the Body of Christ, but I believe God's promises to me as His child. I trust that He is molding and shaping me into who I am meant to be.
     And how many of us can identify with Moses, who used his past mistakes and failures as excuses for why he was unfit to serve the Lord? Let's face it ... when called upon by God, Moses was exiled, humiliated, and poor. He tried to tell God he couldn't do what was asked of him because he had killed, lied, ran away as a coward, betrayed his family, and furthermore, he was scared to speak in public! But after 40 years of running away, Moses was finally willing to believe that God's compassion for the Israelites would never fail, and that a new day of freedom was available and waiting for them. He came to believe more in God's new offer of mercy [and guidance] than in his own past mistakes. 
     And I think I would be remiss if I didn't mention Mary Magdalene. Although Church and cultural history have labeled her a prostitute, there is no real information about her life and character other than what is mentioned in Luke 8. Here, she is mentioned as having been delivered of seven demons by Jesus's compassion and mercy. Imagine the stigma of a woman in the Middle East who was possessed or tormented by not one, but seven, demons! Jesus didn't see a woman who was deserving of public castigation and humiliation, but the heart of a woman who would serve Him with complete devotion, ministering to Him during His death and resurrection, and serving His cause long afterward.
     But, for me, Peter represents the ultimate example of overcoming one's past mistakes and walking in a new beginning and identity. After all, Peter professed his eternal allegiance to Jesus, yet rejected Him three times in His hour of need.  But we must not forget that Jesus knew Peter would fail Him, but He still loved Peter. He still gave Peter the gift of salvation; and called him to His service anyway.  Do you not think that He will do the same for you? 
     Let us take these examples to heart and no longer be defined by our past, but look forward to new beginnings. We celebrate this concept in our culture. Why not in our spirits? Don't stay stuck, or focused on the past, or hinder yourself from walking into a new identity. Joseph didn't decide to languish in prison, misunderstood and failing to reach his potential. Job didn't roll up into a ball in the corner, accepting his fate and his losses. Moses could have hidden out in Midian, having lost his exalted title and position in Egypt, and never have been heard from again. Mary Magdalene could have given in to the demonic spirits and accepted her fate as an "undesirable". Peter could have spent the rest of his years in disgrace and shame and guilt for having abandoned his Master. 
     But each of these people answered a call upon their lives and were renewed, restored, and regenerated.  They were each given a new and higher spiritual nature and identity. They didn't accept the false identity the Enemy wanted them to embrace. Their faith in who Jesus was carried them beyond their pasts and into a transformed life full of hope and empowerment.
     That is what God wants for you!  I urge you to look upon this new year with expectation and a desire for a new and greater identity. Stop listening to the lies that the Enemy is telling you, and start this new year by declaring that you are a new creation; that God is doing a new thing in you; that you have a renewed spirit, mind, and heart; that you are forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God [on your life] in Christ Jesus... and finally, that our God is a god of Creation, not of destruction or disappointment. This new year is full of opportunities for you! Reach for them, accept them, and walk in them. And trust in God's faithfulness to grow you! Happy New Year!

Ephesians 4:22-24     And He has taught you to let go of the lifestyle of the ancient man, the old self-life, which was corrupted by sinful and deceitful desires that spring from delusions. Now it’s time to be made new by every revelation that’s been given to you. And to be transformed as you embrace the glorious Christ-within as your new life and live in union with Him! For God has re-created you all over again in His perfect righteousness, and you now belong to Him in the realm of true holiness.

December 28, 2018

We Have Spiritual Gifts To Unwrap

     The rush of the Christmas season has passed, we've all over-eaten, and stacks of presents are everywhere. The joy of watching your loved ones unwrapping their gifts with joy can be the highlight of the holiday. Can you imagine how pleased it makes the Holy Spirit when we open ourselves up to receiving the gifts He has for us?  It is important for both the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ that we believe, first of all, that we have gifts to be used; and secondly, that we earnestly desire to receive them all.
     I say this, because I know of some Christians who have expressed that they don't think they've been given any gifts, and others who think that desiring gifts is somehow exalting themselves. I personally do not believe that either of these suppositions is true. To begin with, 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12 is one of our "go to" Biblical destinations to find out what the Word says about our gifts. Verse one confronts an obvious stumbling block among the believers in the Church of Corinth. Various translations record Paul saying this about the spiritual gifts: "I don't want you to be confused about the gifts -- or misinformed -- or uninformed". So this was a very important topic in the First Century Church! So should it be today.
     Paul continues in what he wants the Corinthians to understand ... "Now there are distinctive varieties and distributions of endowments (gifts, extraordinary powers distinguishing certain Christians, due to the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit) and they vary, but the [Holy] Spirit remains the same". Paul goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit distributes these various empowering gifts to different people so that the Body of Christ [when considered as a whole] can expand the influence of the Kingdom of God upon the earth.
      There is to be no competition or envy among believers concerning the gifts because we all have a vital part to play in the Kingdom, and the gifts are the divine power source from God that confirms His Word and establishes His righteousness on the earth.  When we properly use the gifts imparted to us, the Body of Christ is equipped to change the world. You see, the imparted gifts are not for us, they are for the benefit of others. Yet, today, there seems to be such controversy and much discord among the Body regarding the pursuit of the gifts. 
     If someone is operating in their gift(s) -- yes, one may be empowered with more than one gift by the Holy Spirit -- I have seen that person ostracized and excluded from the Body because they don't resemble everyone else. I think there are times we have forgotten this important advice from Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:19: "A diversity is required, for if the body consisted of one single part, there wouldn’t be a body at all!" In other words, we should support each other's differences and be thankful for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in bestowing the impartations from God. Furthermore, we should be using our own divine power source to encourage others. Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians 14:1 to "earnestly desire and cultivate the spiritual endowments (gifts)". 
     There is a beautiful picture of this encouragement in Acts 13 where inspired prophets and teachers of the Church at Antioch heard this from the Holy Spirit: "I have called Barnabas and Saul to do an important work for me. Now, release them to go and fulfill it.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they laid hands on them and sent them off. Here, we see the Church working with the Holy Spirit to equip and send believers out into the world to share the Word of God and His Kingdom message. 
     Now, the modern Church does send missionaries into the world to share the Gospel. And, yes, many of them are endowed with spiritual gifts. And I daresay that these gifts of revelation, wisdom, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, and tongues are well-used and well-received among unbelievers who are seeing the manifestation of the Most High God for the first time.
     So, why is it so hard to get the Western Church to embrace the desire and pursuit of these divine gifts? Why are they so neglected, or even misused? What builds the Church up more as the representative of God's kingdom -- denying His empowerment, or selflessly strengthening and encouraging the Body to manifest His power and glory?
     I can only speak for myself, but as I have grown in my relationship with Jesus, I have also sought more of the Holy Spirit and God's empowerment through Him. Because He lives in me, I have access to all the gifts, and I have no problem saying I earnestly desire and pursue all of them! I know that these gifts provide supernatural power and ability to demonstrate God to those I come in contact with. I want to drink deeply of the Spirit [and cooperate with Him] to help unlock the potential of the gifts in others. Just as on Christmas morning, the anticipation of unwrapping a pile of gifts is something we look forward to. It's time for the Church to apply the same expectancy towards the spiritual gifts. Let us desire their distribution, activation and operation in our lives!

1 Peter 4:10    As each of you has received a gift (a particular spiritual talent, a gracious divine endowment), employ it for one another as [befits] good trustees of God’s many-sided grace [faithful stewards of the extremely diverse powers and gifts granted to Christians by unmerited favor]. 

December 25, 2018

Exalting The Birth Of Jesus

     Today, I am unconcerned if Jesus was born on this day or on another. Today, I simply want to honor the indescribable and incomprehensible love of our Father in Heaven that He would send His Son -- a most intimate part of Himself -- to earth to identify with us and redeem us from our sins, transgressions and iniquities; in all the ways we have been rebellious against His Holiness.
     And I think it is important that we take the time to see what the Word has to say about this sacred event that is simple, yet so profound, for all of mankind. After all, we only have a few verses in the four Gospels that even attempt to describe it -- although it was prophesied for centuries before. So, let us consider what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John present under the inspiration of God, the Father, and His Holy Spirit. Perhaps we can comprehend the heart of God for us.
     Would it surprise you to know that a lot of what we incorporate into the "Christmas story" of Jesus's birth comes from Christmas carols that have come down to us through the years? We hold dear the images of shepherds and angels on high; the exhausted holy family looking for shelter among inns that had no room; the birth in "a manger" among farm animals, with the Wise Men from the Orient in attendance. The sentiments touch our hearts, but to get the true source of Jesus's birth, we must take a look at the Gospels and their four very distinct and different renditions.
     The Gospel of Mark is thought to have been the first of the Gospels to have been written, and has been variously attributed to John Mark, a companion and interpreter for the Apostle Peter; to Peter, himself; and to an anonymous First-Century Christian. Since it is the oldest of the Gospels, it is interesting that Mark records nothing of the birth of Jesus. This book begins with the calling of John the Baptist to preach in the wilderness. Jesus doesn't appear in this narrative until He comes to be baptized at the River Jordan by John.
     Regarding the birth of Jesus, the Gospel of Mark writes from a "narrative of omission", meaning the purpose of this Gospel is not to focus on the Holy birth, but to point us to the service of the Lord. Mark is writing to the believers in Roman society [who were used to social classes steeped in honor and status]. He wants his readers to understand it is not important where a servant is born or from which family he comes – it is his service that defines him. Therefore he paints for us a picture of hidden and radical service by One given all authority (our Lord), and calls the audience of this Gospel to follow the example of Jesus that [as Lord] defined His mission and ministry by His service to others. Mark is not denying the holy birth of Jesus, but rather focuses on His holy mission.
     Matthew, in contrast to Mark, is writing to an audience of Jews and begins his Gospel with a detailed geneology that shows us Jesus is a descendant of both Abraham and King David. It is his intention to make readers understand that Jesus will be a king greater than David, and a teacher/leader greater than Moses.
     Matthew's Gospel makes a simple statement of conception by the Holy Spirit and then makes Joseph, "a just man", a central figure in the birth narrative. Matthew gives us details of the search by the Wise Men from the East who came to Jerusalem looking for the King of the Jews. When the anti-Christ spirit in King Herod sought to destroy the Christ child, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and instructed him to take the child and His mother to Egypt and remain there until Herod had died, whereupon they were to return to Nazareth. Matthew lets us know all this was according to the prophecies in the Old Testament, and is the fulfillment of Hebrew Scripture .... Emmanuel, God with us.
     Luke's Gospel narrative of the birth of Jesus is written to the Gentiles, and focuses on the role of the Holy Spirit and gives attention to the women in the story (Mary, Jesus's mother, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist). It is the longest narrative of the life of Jesus in the four Gospels, and gives us a broader picture of the social status of Joseph and Mary and the humble circumstances of Jesus' birth in a stable. It is especially noteworthy that Luke makes it clear that angels announced the impending birth of the Holy child to ordinary shepherds in the field, rather than to the rich, privileged and powerful Wise Men (astrologers) of the East. They had ascertained the time of Christ's birth according to the stars and the prophecies.
      There is beauty in Luke's rendition as he shows us God ridding Himself of His divine nature to be born as Jesus, a human child; born among the poor but reflecting God's desire that men experience His peace and good will towards all.
     At this point, I would like to make mention of another attribute of Luke's narrative. He takes great care to share the interchange between Mary and the angel Gabriel, and the revelation that she would conceive a child in her womb when "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God".
     In these latter years, there has been much effort to disprove "the virgin birth" by claiming it is a product of a mistranslation; citing that the Hebrew word for"virgin" actually means "young woman". But this does not take into account that at the beginning of his Gospel, Luke takes the time to explain that he was writing "an orderly account" of the things believers had been taught according to the "eyewitnesses and ministers of the word". In other words, Luke was doing his own investigation, and critics have long surmised that he had ample opportunity to speak to interview witnesses to Jesus's birth, including Mary herself. 
     The details with which Luke presents his story seems to indicate that he has derived his information from a primary source; either Mary, herself, or someone to whom Mary had relayed the intimate details of the events with the angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit. Remember, Luke was a physician, so he would be qualified to investigate a virgin birth, and it is clear he believed Mary's account.
     Now for the final account of Jesus's birth, we take a look at the Gospel of John.  His is quite different from the human accounts of Matthew and Luke. John presents the Lord's birth in heavenly and spiritual terms... His birth began in Heaven; "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. " John goes on to describe Jesus's birth in powerful and undeniable language: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father". 
     Although John does not mention Mary, Joseph or any of the other people that Matthew, Mark, or Luke mentions, he is nevertheless making it clear that he believes the birth of Christ is the most important event in mankind's history... "In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it". 
     So what are we to make of these four very different and distinct narratives of the birth of Christ? He came as the King of the Jews, worthy of obedience and worship (Matthew); He was born as the compassionate human Savior to the poor, overlooked, neglected (Luke); Jesus as Lord, comes to show us a new way; free from the limitations of social status (Mark); and Jesus is God, born in the flesh to give us a new beginning and to shine His light into the darkness of this world.
      So whether the Christ child, the Anointed One who came to save the world, was born today or not doesn't really matter. What is important is that we believe He is who the Gospels say He is -- God in the flesh; holy and incorruptible; the Light of the World ; and the Savior of the lost world. So, let us all come together and worship Him in reverence and fear... "For there is peace and a good hope given to the sons of men."

Thank you to Dr. Corné Bekker, Assistant-Dean of Rhema Bible College in Johannesburg , South Africa, for his writings comparing the Birth Narrative of Christ in the four Gospels.
Luke 2:10-11    But the angel reassured them, saying, “Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah.