Be Careful of Mob Mentality

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Artwork credit to Jan Rombouts

“One of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem.  And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” Luke 5:17

Don’t you find it interesting that Luke doesn’t say, “As Jesus was teaching, all the sick people were sitting there…”  Neither does he say, “As Jesus was teaching, all the common people were sitting there…”  And again, he doesn’t say, “As Jesus was teaching, a mixed crowd was sitting there, Pharisees, teachers of the law, sick people, and lots of other people as well…”  No, when Luke paints the picture for us, he points out the effort the Pharisees and teachers of the law made to come to see Jesus. 

Why were they here?  To listen to his teaching and believe?  That doesn’t appear to be what the evidence of Scripture says.  It’s more likely they were coming to find fault in him and prove that he wasn’t who he said he was.  They came to find fault, not truth.  But there is good news for those of us who are like the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Despite our agenda, God’s agenda is stronger!  The King James Version says, “…and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.”  Heal who?  So far, the only people Luke has mentioned are the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  God can heal even the hardest of the hard-hearted.  That is good news.

I wasn’t there,  but I wonder if my picture of that day is skewed.  I mean, I know there is a crowd and today, crowds can become dangerous when they mob and riot.  Crowds are often political motivators now-a-days.  But what was this crowd?  Were crowds normal things?  It appears that in Greek thinking, the crowd was not a good thing, associated with the lowest strata of the population mobbing.  The whole idea stood against democratic thought.  For the Romans, it spoke of irregularity.  So these people gathered today, during Roman rule in Israel on this day, let’s just consider it all an immense irregularity that could defy the way people usually conduct their lives, even defying their “rationality.”

We know that Jesus was inside a house because we are going to read of these men who lowered their paralytic friend through the roof so that Jesus could heal him.  So let me see this picture.  Jesus is in a house.  He’s been prepared for this day, because he has taken time to withdraw in the wilderness and pray sometime before this takes place.  Now, here he is, inside this house teaching.  Hopefully, I’m not assuming wrongly, but I’m reading that the main people in that house that had gathered around him, sitting there, are the Pharisees and doctors of the law who had come from afar.  I think that house was full of Pharisees and teachers of the law, so full that no one else could fit inside.  And I wonder if they would have anyways, or would it have been frowned upon for your ordinary person to sit down in that crowd gathered there? 

Was it regular for so many Pharisees and lawyers to be gathered together in one place?  Were their thoughts the regular thoughts of the men of their religious leadership?  Who is this crowd?  What is the purpose of the crowd?  Will something good come from this crowd?

Enter the men and their paralytic friend.  There are too many people to bring him in the house into the presence of Jesus.  They are forced to do something irregular as well.  They go to the roof.  Was there a crowd outside?  I have no idea.  Does it matter?  The crowd inside was the problem.  The crowd inside had their own agenda and they could care less about anyone outside, especially some ordinary guys and a paralytic sinner on a mat.  Maybe the quietest crowds can be the most dangerous, huh?

Usually a crowd is thought of as rabble, but what if that wasn’t the case with the crowd today.  What if the rabble was what was going on in their minds?  What if the crowd mentality was fighting not against democracy, but against God’s will?  What if the crowd mentality needed healing and that is why Jesus was there that day, to heal this crowd of Pharisees and teachers of the law who were acting like rabble without even realizing it?

What if these men and their paralytic friend were a God send, sent for the healing of these religious men sitting in this room, this crowd gathered inside around Jesus?  What if I need to read this like Luke said, that the “power of the Lord was present to heal them,” to heal the ones sitting on the floor in that room, those religious leaders and the men and their friend being lowered from the ceiling was the lesson for their healing?

Look at the picture.  All these religious leaders who each should have been leading sinners to Jesus, but what was happening?  All these religious leaders were holding people back from Jesus, back from God.  Here comes someone seeking healing, but they can’t find it through the religious leaders.  Why?  The leaders are uninterested in the plight of the men.  The religious leaders are too focussed on their own plans, their own agenda.  So God takes a different route. 

He sends the men up on the roof.  They do something irregular.  They take apart the roof and go directly to Jesus.  Why?  Because they can’t get to Jesus through the people they are supposed to get to Jesus through.  So God takes the leaders out of the picture and sends the men in need directly to the Source.  They lower down their friend, before Jesus and before the whole crowd of religious leaders.  They demonstrate faith.  These sinners who weren’t “worthy” of the religious leaders’ attention, are the ones demonstrating faith!  And Jesus says, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”  What?! 

Now all the scribes and Pharisees are in an uproar because only God can forgive sins.  Obviously, no one there believes that Jesus is of God.  Well, except for the men with faith on the roof and the paralytic.  None of these leaders believe Jesus is who he says he is.  None of them believe he is who God says he is.  Then again, anyone can say, “You are forgiven.”  Those are just words, right?  So you could argue over whether that guy is forgiven or not.  Words are just words.  Words are not necessarily proof, right?

If that is true, that God alone can forgive sins, is there a way that Jesus can prove that He has been given the authority by God to forgive sins?  Jesus tells them to follow out their reasoning.  If that is true, there should be a way to prove it.  If God alone can forgive sins, and Jesus can forgive sins, then they should be able to come to an obvious conclusion about Jesus.  So he takes it a step farther.  Is it easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven?”  or is it easier to say, “Rise up and walk?”

Well, which is easier?  It’s easy to say either one.  Both are just words.  Well, both are just words if that is all they are.  Any words are easy to say.  I could say, “I am the Son of God.”  It’s easy to say, but for me it wouldn’t be true.  It would just be words.  But that’s not the case for Jesus.  It’s just as easy for him to say “You are forgiven.” as it is for him to say “Rise up and walk,” because He has the power and authority of God to do both.  It’s not only easy for Him to say.  It’s easy for Him to do.  The lesson wasn’t for the friends that day, although they benefited tremendously.  The lesson was for the skeptical religious leaders.  When Jesus forgives, God is forgiving.  He has the authority of God because He is God’s Son, the Messiah.  He and the Father are One.  When He says “Rise up and walk,” it happens, because He has the power of God to forgive sins and do the will of God.  That day, they heard Jesus forgive sins, and they saw him heal a paralytic. 

The power of the Lord was present that day to heal them, all of them if only they would be healed.  You know, I wonder if Nicodemus was there that day, or maybe even Joseph of Aramathea?  Wouldn’t it be a shame to be offered the power of the Lord for your healing and pass it by?  I don’t know how many other people were there, but Luke says, “they were all amazed, and they glorified God, and were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’”  For a moment, they were caught up in astonishment.  Their regular thinking was all shaken up.  All of them, every one of them, was in a dilemma because their thoughts were all displaced.  This was not what they expected.  This was divine.  This blew their ideas out of the water.  This was evidence and they had to deal with it one way or another.  They had to glorify God.  The man was healed.  That was undeniable.  And it frightened them.  Why?

Do we ever become frightened when we know the truth and don’t want to do it?  If they honored the truth, that Jesus was who He and God said He was, their lives would have to change.  They would have to hand authority over to Him.  They would have to say that He was right and they were wrong.  They would have to suck up their pride before all the people.  That’s a scary thing.  And, it’s a scary thing to decide to go against God as well.  I suppose there was a lot to be afraid of that day.  It was scary.  It was a paradox before them.  This was all contrary to their expectations.  What they called absurd, you know, Jesus being able to forgive sins, was being shown to be true, fact. 

So why weren’t all these religious leaders believers after that?  Maybe Paul sheds some light on that.  “For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God,” ( Romans 1:21-23) for other things and other thoughts.  They didn’t rearrange their thinking to line up with the truth they learned that day.  They just held on to their own thinking, and clung to their foolish pride, and dishonoured the God who sent healing their way.  We can do the same thing.

Sometimes we get too caught up in glorifying ourselves.  We allow ourselves to be temporarily amazed by God and then we slide right back into our own glorification.  That wasn’t so with Jesus.  He didn’t glorify himself.  He always let God glorify him.  (Hebrews 5:5)  These religious leaders were so busy with their own glory, that they were no longer glorifying God and He could not, therefore, glorify them.  They should have been speaking for God’s glory, not their own.  They should have been serving by His strength, but they were serving in their own strength.  (1 Peter 4:11)  They were glorifying themselves and there is no glory to God in that.  Their purpose should have been to glorify God and give Him dominion, but they were so busy thinking and wanting others to think they were flawless teachers and unerring in Scripture so that they wouldn’t even check out Scripture to verify the truth of Jesus. 

I don’t want my pride to cause me to act foolishly.  I don’t want my pride to cause me to lessen what You are doing in my life or what You are showing me because I refuse to act upon Your truth.  I don’t want to be like Babylon in Revelation 18:7, who glorified herself and lived as she pleased and said “I sit as queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.”  I don’t want to rule myself.  I want You to rule me.  I want to be the daughter of the King; I don’t need to be queen, nor do I want to be.  I am a widow, even though my earthly spouse is still alive.  Why?  Because I am desperate for Your care.  I am wholly dependent upon You for my provision of spiritual well-being as well as physical well-being.  And I know that I will see mourning, because You tell me in this world there will be troubles, but I am also encouraged by Your words that You have overcome, and because I am not my own, and I am not alone, and I am in You and You in me, I too am an overcomer because of You.  Don’t ever let me miss the lessons You present to me.  Don’t let me get caught up in myself so that I miss the truth of You. 

“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness and truth, who keeps loving-kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6,7)  Thank You for being this Lord God that day in that room to those religious leaders.  Just because many of them missed their healing, doesn’t discount who You are.  Because the truth is, You are still reaching out to us just as compassionately and graciously.  And the truth is, it’s still up to each of us whether we will accept Your healing and compassion or turn from it.  I want to grasp it with everything I have.

No Longer a Viper

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Photo credit to Alfonso Castro.

“He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” Luke 3:7

As sure as Donald Trump is the current president of the United States and Rodrigo Duterte is the current president of the Philippines, John was a historical figure, empowered by the Holy Spirit to prepare people for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.  As sure as the sun rises and sets every day, John was given the calling by God to proclaim a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  This is no surprise to us.  We already read in Luke 1:16,17, the angel’s accounting of John’s future ministry: “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before them in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

“To everything turn, turn, turn, There is a season turn, turn, turn, And a time to every purpose under heaven…” (The Byrds)  God sent John to turn the people.  Why would the children of Israel, God’s people of all people, need turning?  Because, though they were God’s people by nationality, they weren’t being God’s people by reality.  Their hearts were not in tune to His.  They were actually disobedient, trusting in their own wisdom.  And it made them unprepared to know and do God’s will.  They needed turning, and so do we.

If God’s chosen people needed not only to understand repentance, but needed to repent themselves, then what of me?  What is repentance really?  What should it look like in me?  You mean, I could think of myself as a religious person and still need repentance?  John Piper defines repentance as “a turning of the direction of our life and the affections of our heart, so that we become oriented on God and love the things he loves.”  What do I gain by repenting?  The forgiveness of my sins.  Did you know that the seriousness of my repentance can be measured?  How?  How do you measure something like repentance?  By your fruit, the actions of Your life.  How far will You go to please and obey God?  To the extreme?  Or just to where it’s comfortable and no more?

So why did I choose to look at this verse where John calls the crowd “vipers”?  Because  it caught my attention.  John called the crowd vipers, not just the Pharisees.  The crowd was made up of all the different walks of life in Israel.  I know that it was not just the Pharisees because Luke shares about John addressing people who owned more than one tunic (the better off?), tax collectors (the shunned?), and soldiers. 

How strong is it or was it for John to call the people vipers?  For a Jew, this was extremely strong language.  It would have associated people’s minds with the snake in the garden, that deceiver, Satan.  It would have associated the Jewish mind with being called a son of the devil, you know, like Jesus called them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)  Yep, this viper thing is rough stuff.  John was “Layin’ it to ‘em,” so to speak.

Let’s take it a step forward.  John was preaching that they needed true repentance, to turn to God’s mercy and not their own works or their “nationality” as their saving grace.  To show that they were walking in true repentance, he asked them to be baptised in the Jordan River.  No problem, right?  Only, that was a problem for the Jew.  Why?  Because, baptism, for the Jew, was something that proselytes had to do to become a Jew.  It wasn’t for Jews, because they were already the “people of God.”  If I’m already God’s chosen, why would I need to be baptised?  If all I have to do is be a Jew to be pleasing to God, then why must I be baptised?  I am already a Jew.  But that’s exactly what baptism was proclaiming, that God’s promises aren’t based on who we are, our race, our works, our thoughts, our whatever.  God’s promises to His chosen people aren’t promises to a people chosen, but unrelated to Him.  God’s promises to His chosen people are for those who choose Him in return and understand that grace is only found in Him and not in us.  God’s promises to His people are for His people who rely wholly on His grace to fulfil His promises toward us.  Those promises are not due to those who rely on their merits, whether they be Jewishness, works, favour, or anything else.

Baptism for a Jew meant that my Jewishness is not enough; I’m not a child of God unless I am willing to repent and trust fully in the grace of God alone.  Nothing else will save me.  My heart must be changed toward God. 

So, if Jewishness isn’t what saves me, then there is also hope for all non-Jews, for the Gentiles to repent and be forgiven as well.  When Luke shares the words from Isaiah, the paths are made straight for all people.  The valleys are filled, mountains flattened, crooked roads straightened, rough places smoothed.  Why?  To eliminate the boundary to God.  All men are on even playing ground.  All men, women, children must come to God in the same way, despite nationality, gender, age.  We must all repent and come to God on His terms alone under His grace. 

What are His terms?  To believe in Jesus as the payment for our sins, as the gift of life and grace to us, and trusting in Him to live in the will of our heavenly Father.  That’s why Simeon could say, under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, “My eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” (Luke 2:30,31)  But if some vipers refuse to repent and believe, it opens the door for other vipers to receive the message and be given the chance.  Paul reiterated that  to some Jews who would not repent and believe, “Let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” (Acts 28:28)

“You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  You, know, the Jews weren’t and aren’t the only ones in a rotten condition.  Genesis 3:15 tells us that there is enmity that God has put between the seed of Satan and man.  Who will fix that enmity, that brings enmity between God and man?  That implies that Satan is our father until we repent.  Being a viper implied being the son of the devil.  When was the last time I thought I started off that rotten?  Does it insult me?  Or does it make me want to change?  Does it make me want to shake off my old father and be adopted by my new Father?  Does it compel me towards God if I know the truth? 

Think about it.  Why is it so obnoxious to me to think that until God does a work in me, I am rotten like the devil?  Who really made Adam and Eve sin?  Did the devil twist their arms?  No.  He just got them to focus more on something they were already looking at.  They just made up their own minds to want their own way more than God’s way.  They wanted to rule themselves instead of God ruling them.  Wasn’t that the devil’s very own sin?  Isn’t that why he fell from heaven and took so many of the angels with him?  I don’t need the devil for me to think like that.  It comes naturally.  I need God to change my thinking.  I need God to change my heart.  I need God to change my desires.  I can’t be good without God’s help because God’s goodness is different than man’s varied ideas on what suffices as good.  Yeah, we’re in Satan’s grip unless we surrender ourselves into God’s grip. 

There is a wrath to come.  Can you take the strength of the message?  Can you hear and understand that you are a viper?  Do you understand that there is a wrath to come toward all vipers?  Is that where you want to stay?  Or will you repent and turn to the only One who can offer you grace and love and life through Jesus Christ?  Because there is a time when the Homeowner isn’t going to put up with dangerous vipers on His land any more.  The shovel tip is going to separate the head from the body.  It won’t be safe to be a viper.

But the good news is that there is an escape from that wrath.  But this is the weirdest and wildest escape ever.  The viper must repent of being a viper.  It must run to the river, be baptised in repentance.  The viper must have its sins forgiven and only God can do that.  Only God can remove His wrath.   And only God can change a viper into a new creation with no more condemnation, but forgiveness, and newness of life in Him.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)  Only God can take a son of the devil and make him a child of God!

“Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  Who opened your eyes to see that you were a viper in need of salvation, in need of repentance, in need of forgiveness?  Who opened your eyes to see God and know Him and come to Him?  Who opened your eyes to see the truth and accept it and cling to it?  Who caused the crowd to decide to come to John looking for salvation?  Who causes any of us to read this, or listen to a sermon, or open God’s word, or ask a friend to help us come to God?  We didn’t come here on our own, just as the Jews didn’t come to John on their own.  Someone compelled them.  Someone moved them.  Someone compels and moves us.  Who?

Who makes it clear to us that we need to repent, that we need Someone more than ourself, that we are not enough?  God.  You warn us.  You draw us.  You open our eyes. 

You love us so much You come to us in our “viperness” to rescue us by waking us up to what is really going on.  This is why Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44)  This is true for every viper who has ever lived.  We can’t come to repentance unless God draws us.  God impresses on us our need for salvation by revealing to us the viper that we are.  Yeah, truth hurts, but it’s only the truth that sets us free.  (John 8:32)  And truth is, that truth is God’s.

Lord, I don’t want to rely on anything for salvation other than Your mercy.  Let me always be reminded that You are not obligated to any of Your promises according to my efforts or according to who I am.  I am obligated wholly to You. There is some way that You are able to have mercy on whom You will have mercy while still not breaking Your promises.   I want to bear fruit worthy of repentance.  I want to be real in You not because I’m so great, but because You are so great.  I want to be worthy, not because I am worthy, but because I belong to the worthy One and You impart Your worthiness to me.  I want to be a child of God not because I’m Jewish or Gentile, but because I’m Yours, birthed by You, because You drew me to repentance and to faith in You.  Yeah, in truth, I’m more like a viper.  But in a better and more solid truth, I am being made more like the Lamb every day.

Approaching the Unapproachable

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“…a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:32
I don’t want to take these words lightly because these words are telling us there is hope for all people! Paul didn’t take these words lightly either. He reiterated, repeated, re-emphasized their truth. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” And he didn’t stop there, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16,17)
Simeon, that old prophet who met Jesus, Mary, and Joseph at the temple that day didn’t just come to the temple because it was what he did that day. He came by the Spirit into the temple that day. He came at that specific time and into that specific room where that specific function of dedication was performed, there he was, for that specific child, Jesus. He took him up in his arms, blessing God, because the Holy Spirit had not only answered his prayer to see the Messiah before he died, but that this Messiah, this Prince of Peace he was holding in his very arms, was the salvation of ALL people. This Prince of Peace, who was only a little baby right now and physically contained within his very arms, was also to be a light to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.
Since creation, God has been the provider of light. He alone is the rightful provider because “…God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) James knew the wonder of that truth as well. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:17,18)
God is the only One who can truly be a light for revelation to the Gentiles- to all the people who are non-Jews. This does not imply that Israel does not need His light, but only His glory. God’s light and glory are one. But one who is totally blind sees no light at all, and so was a Gentile, because a Gentile did not know God who is light itself, and the Father of lights. Israel knew that God was the light, but were not living in that truth, were not living in Him. To live in the Light is to live in His presence, in His glory. That is actually God’s goal for both of us, the Jew and the Gentile.
This light that was revealed to Simeon is so beyond our full comprehension. I mean, God is light. God. Did you hear that? God is light. Only God. But Simeon has said that this baby Jesus was a light for the Gentiles and glory for the people of Israel. How could he be that if that were not the light of God in Jesus? Is this what John was rejoicing in when he wrote of Jesus, “in him was life, and the life was the light of men”? (John 1:4) Or when he wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”? (John 1:5) Or when he wrote about John’s witness about Jesus, that Jesus was “the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone”? (John 1:8,9) And why? “That all might believe through him.” (John 1:7)
“Light” is both the essence and the personality of God. Darkness is what is not of God, that which is evil, that which is sin, that which is corruption. So think of everything that is not sin or corruption or evil. What do you come up with? Everything that God is, like the wonderful fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness/meekness, and self-control; like “goodness, honesty, purity, wisdom, and glory,” are all part of this essence of His light. And understand that God “dwells in unapproachable light” according to Paul in 1 Timothy 6:16. Then I’m worried, because if I need the light of God to live, how can I if He is unapproachable? How can You be my light if I can’t approach You, God?
The answer is Jesus, the Son of God and son of man. The answer is the baby in Simeon’s arm today. Who can explain this? I can’t. But God and Jesus are One. Jesus said it Himself. It’s recorded in John 10:30. Therefore, if Jesus and God are One, then Jesus is the Light just as God is the Light. But Jesus is also Emmanuel, God with us! Jesus is also our redemption! Jesus is also our Lamb of God, slain, for our forgiveness, so that we could see the light of God and not be destroyed! He protects us from the full power of the light of God by covering us with His blood, with His righteousness, both Jew and Gentile.
God needs no source of light because He is light. Jesus needs no source of light because He is that same light. But I need light and so do you. We need no other source of light but God Himself and the only way for Him to be our light, is through Jesus, His Son. (Revelation 22:5)

Imagine what it would be like that day for Simeon to hold this truth in his arms, to see this reality coming to life! Imagine what it would be like to hold, momentarily, the unapproachable within your arms and live! Imagine what it is like to have the Unapproachable One invite you to life in His presence and make a way for you to live, a way that You would not be destroyed because of even the most minor of sins.
Our Father of lights, the One who is light and created all the lights of the heavens, is also love. (1 John 4:16) That’s what makes this so awesome. God is love and God is light for us and not only for us, but just because that’s who He is. It’s not something that happened in Him or something He became, but it’s His essence. The special thing is that God reveals Himself to us in these wonderful ways. The unapproachable God chooses to make Himself approachable to us. Is that not the craziest thing you ever heard?!
The unapproachable God chooses to make Himself approachable to us. Think about this here. Simeon, some old man, who had been seeking God for so long, and seeking the truth in His word, was waiting for the the foretold Messiah to come. He didn’t just want Messiah for himself. I know he didn’t because he knew that the Messiah was for the good of the Gentiles and the Jews. He didn’t know how. He didn’t know who. But He trusted and waited expectantly.
And God, You rewarded that faith. You showed him the consolation of Israel. You revealed Yourself to him in Jesus, the Christ. I don’t think that he would have been in that spot at that hour in the temple that day, at that time that Mary and Joseph walked in, had You not told him by Your Spirit. This is no coincidence. You were allowing this one glimpse before he was to die. Maybe, the Spirit inside of him lept for joy at the sight of Jesus, like the babe in Elizabeth. I wonder if there were tears in his eyes as he saw and reached for this babe, this babe who was more than a babe. Who could imagine taking the Savior of the world, the Light of the world, into their own arms? Did it amaze the shepherds? Did it amaze Mary and Joseph or had they begun to take him for granted? Does it amaze me?
How do I react when You have opened my eyes to see Your salvation in Jesus Christ? Do I remember that He is for the salvation of all people, not just me? He revealed You to me, a lowly Gentile. He reveals You to the Jew. He brings us into Your glory, alive and well! Do I even marvel at this? And if I do marvel, for how long? Will my marveling wane? Why? Because the Light never wanes. “…[T]he people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16) When did that stop being awesome news to my soul?
Again, Jesus speaks to us, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:5-9) Oh, my soul, don’t be unteachable and unreachable. “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:13-17) Draw near to the Lord and He will draw near to you. He’ll even light the way.

Human Like Me

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“…that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”  Luke 1:74,75

I’ve talked about Mary and how she was blessed because she believed the words of God, not because she was the mother of Jesus.  I’ve talked about Elizabeth and how she was blessed as well and knew when others were blessed because she believed the words of God.  And we’ve also thought about Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, who had trouble believing the words of God.  But there is good news for Zechariah and those of us who are not so “quick” at trusting, at believing the words of God when they are so different from what we see and “know.”  God is at work in us still.  The question is, will I come to recognise and surrender to that work?

Zechariah had to step back from things for a while.  I’m pretty sure he had to step back from his leadership positions.  I mean, I don’t read about it, so this is speculation, but if he couldn’t speak, if he was mute, that’s an “imperfection” and he wouldn’t have been able to carry out the priestly function, right?  If he was discipling others, would that have stopped while he was speechless?  Would they have resorted to writing everything?  Would there be too much to write to make that effective?

Is it wrong to think that Zechariah was “demoted” for a while?  After all, he didn’t believe the words of God.  He wanted proof that the words were true, that it would really happen.  As if giving birth to a prophet, the herald of Jesus, when your wife is beyond child-bearing age wouldn’t have been proof in itself, Zechariah wanted more.  What sign would suffice?  Fine.  Here’s a sign.  You won’t be able to speak until the day you come to acknowledge the truth of these words.  I mean, that’s basically it, isn’t it?

Do you ever wonder what was going through Zechariah’s head for those 9 or so months that he was mute?  “I’m a priest, how can I be a priest if I can’t talk?”  “What is everyone thinking about me?”  “Is this really happening?  What is God going to do through all of this?  Am I really going to have a son who will be a prophet?  Is Elizabeth really going to have a baby?  Am I really going to be a father?”  “What is the good of me being a priest if I can’t talk?”  “Wait a minute, what is the good of me being a priest if I don’t believe the words of God?  If I can’t believe, how can I lead others to believe?” 

I don’t really know what Zechariah thought.  I wasn’t in his head.  It’s not written.  I can only guess and not know the accuracy of my guessing.  But he is a human like me.  And I can pretty much figure that we probably think a lot alike when we’re not trusting in God’s words to us.  But I’m so glad that God was busy at work teaching Zechariah how to believe, how to think rightly in line with Him.  He didn’t give up on Zechariah; no, He honed in where Zechariah needed his eyes and heart to be opened.

And then came the day of decision when the people wanted Zechariah to follow tradition.  They wanted the boy to be named after his father, Zechariah.  Elizabeth was crazy to name him John.  Zechariah would do the appropriate thing.  And he did.  Zechariah wrote, “His name is John.”  What?!  Zechariah believed the words of God finally, more than he trusted in the traditions.  He believed. 

How do I know?  Listen again to the first words of the angel to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard (the priest in the holy of holies wasn’t praying for a baby, he was praying for the promised saviour!), and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” (Luke 1:13)  It wasn’t just about Zechariah believing he was going to have a baby named John.  It was about Zechariah believing that God was fulfilling prophecy, bringing forth the Messiah, and that John would herald Him.  Remember these words, “…you shall call his name John.”

The moment comes.  “What will you name him?” the people ask.  “His name is John,” is Zechariah’s answer.  Why?  Because he has come to believe that God’s word is true.  He is believing.  And what comes of his believing?  The same thing Mary and Elizabeth received—joy and gladness to share with others.  Upon surrendering and believing, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and what did he do in his prophesying?  He sang of the wonders of God to His people and the truth of His words.  He sang that by the word of God, His people are saved from their enemies.  He sang that by the word of God, we receive mercy by remembering and believing them.  He sang that by the word of God we are delivered from our enemies to serve God fearlessly, in holiness and righteousness.  He sang about how John would herald the Lord Jesus, preparing things for him by preparing people’s hearts for salvation and forgiveness.  He sang about the Most High, sharing His tender mercy with us by sending us the Sunrise to give light to those of us in darkness and life in the shadow of death, and guidance to peace in Him.  In other words, believing the words of God changed everything for Zechariah.

He went from being silent and having nothing he could say, to declaring the most wonderful news ever!  He went from being aware of the most wonderful news ever, to believing the most wonderful news ever!  He went from looking at a cloudy day, to seeing the most glorious day ever!  He went from knowing words in a book to seeing the life and reality of those words!  He finally knew what it was to join the ranks of the believers like Mary and Elizabeth.  He finally knew the joy of true believing. 

How am I handling the words of God?  Am I to the point of believing them?  Or am I just remembering them?  Am I just reading them and taking them in?  There is a difference.  May I know the difference.  I pray that Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and Luke will help me to know that difference, and even more importantly, that I can know that I am one who believes in the fulfilment of every one of the words of God.

Blessed is the One Who Believes

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“…but his mother answered, ‘No; he shall be called John.’” Luke 1:60

Let’s not forget the God-inspired words of Elizabeth earlier in Luke 1:45, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  I think this really matters, because now we come to another part of this same story.  To rehash the earlier parts of the story: an angel comes to Zechariah as he is in the Holy of Holies.  Zechariah is told that he and his wife will conceive a son named John, even in their old age, and he will herald the messiah.  Zechariah wants a sign since they are beyond child bearing age.  In other words, he’s saying, “How can I believe this?”  Yeah, that’s doubting.  So, he’s struck with the inability to speak until the baby is born and named.  Well, maybe that’s not really it.  Maybe, it’s until he finally gets it and believes by naming the baby because he finally sees that this baby, John, of his and Elizabeth’s is the fulfilment of what was spoken to him from the Lord.

But where does Elizabeth fall into all this?  Zechariah can’t speak.  But we know he can write things down.  He must have told her the story.  I don’t think she responded like Zechariah.  I think that this was such good news to her, and she wanted it so much, that she started looking forward to it right then.  I think that she didn’t ask for a sign.  She just did what the Lord implied and let Him do the rest.  I think she could speak these words to Mary because she understood them herself, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  I think that she also was one who believed like that.  And that’s why she was sensitive to the spirit when Mary came.  That’s why she knew her baby wasn’t just kicking from gas pains.  That’s how she knew Mary was with the Son of God and her baby, John, who was called to be His herald, was already heralding Him.  That’s faith.  That’s the walk and life of faith.

Sometimes, it’s not the man who hears and believes God first.  Sometimes, the woman is more sensitive for whatever reason.  Zechariah was a priest, for goodness sake!  You would think if anyone would be sensitive to the Lord, it would be him!  But even those who ought to be the most sensitive, can have their own preconceived notions about God or life or the way things are done.  Elizabeth wasn’t as “practical” as her husband, was she?  Why could she remember the scriptures better than Zechariah, to know that this was easy for God?  I don’t know.  All I know, was that when Zechariah was not sensitive, his wife was.  She saw things more accurately spiritually than her husband , the priest.  And spiritual and physical are intertwined.

In that intertwining we see Elizabeth, ministering and being ministered to as she is with Mary.  We see her knowing things that only God has revealed.  We see joy that can’t be self-contained, but must be shared.  We see confidence, not a self-confidence, but a confidence in upholding the word of God, over and over again.  And we see God fulfilling His words in her, not only in John’s birth, but in the way that God drew near to her.

So the time comes for Elizabeth to give birth, for God’s word to come to fruition in the birth of this child in her womb.  And she gives birth to a son.  Traditionally, it’s expected for the first born son to be named after his father.  Everyone is expecting this bundle of extra special blessing to be named, Zechariah, after his father.  But, Elizabeth is the first to answer with an adamant, “No, he shall be called John.”  Why?  Because this was God’s baby first and He had already named Him and given Him a purpose.  Why would Elizabeth, who believed God, want to change that?

Well, sometimes people don’t understand when God does a work in our heart or lives.  They can’t see what He’s shown us.  So the people didn’t like her answer.  So they went to Zechariah.  Now, in all the time from the announcement of the angel until this day, Zechariah has not been able to speak.  Remember the proclamation of the angel upon him, “And, behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:20)   Now, I’m a little confused why the people are making signs to Zecharias about what he wanted the baby to be called.  He wasn’t deaf, just mute.  Maybe, again, they were still busy making assumptions. 

But Zechariah was an integral part of the fulfilling of this prophecy.  What?  The angel had proclaimed, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth…” (Luke 1:13-14)  Zechariah’s belief was part of the prophecy!  Maybe You knew it wouldn’t be a hard stretch for Elizabeth to believe, Lord.  You knew that Zechariah needed this to grow in his faith.  It wasn’t enough for Elizabeth, for his wife to believe.  Zechariah had to become a believer too.  God knew all along that Zechariah was the one who needed to believe that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to him from the Lord.  Zechariah needed to be the one to show he believed that this was God’s baby, formed for God’s purpose.  Zechariah needed to agree with God and be the one to name the child John according to God’s word and purposes.

Why would that bring joy and gladness and rejoicing?  Because, that’s what God brings when we surrender to Him and His will.  That’s when we can see Him, know Him, experience Him in our lives.  That’s when things start to make sense.  That’s when His spirit can speak to us and tell us things we would never see otherwise.

If you are like Elizabeth, keep trusting.  God’s fulfilment of what was spoken to us by the Lord, will never cease.  We can always “bank” on His word.  But if you are like Zechariah, be careful that your doubts, your preconceived notions, your “practicalness,” don’t keep you from trusting in the Lord.  Here’s the thing, God can be working in us before we actually have trusted in Him.  But until we place all our trust in Him, we won’t have any good news to share because we can’t.  We can’t share what we don’t even believe, can we?  Oh, we can go through the motions, just like Zechariah.  You could even be a priest.  But a priest who doesn’t really trust in the word of God for His every day, isn’t really a priest in God’s eyes, is he?  Thank goodness, that God was still at work in Zechariah’s life, so that he could have the joy of being a real priest one day, by knowing and experiencing the effect of real faith in God.  Have you come to that point?  If not, you are missing the blessing.  Don’t forget, blessed is the one who believes that there will be a fulfilment of what was spoken to us from the Lord.

No Matter the Circumstances

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“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and…”  Luke 1:41 (and a tiny bit of 42 as a teaser.)

In all the Marvel Avenger movies, we sit and wait at the very end for the teasers or tag to come up while the credits are rolling.  We sat and waited and waited in the last Avenger’s movie, until one of the staff cleaning up asked, “What are you waiting for?”  “Isn’t there a teaser coming?”  “Nope.”  “Oh.”  How disappointing!

Well, today’s Scripture, does not leave us without a teaser.  And I think that today, the Lord is “teasing” me to look not just at Elizabeth, or John the Baptist, or Mary, or the birth of Jesus, but to look beyond those things at Him.  So here I am, with Elizabeth, who, when she is greeted by Mary, and maybe she hadn’t even seen Mary yet, but only heard her voice, but that was all it took, for the Holy Spirit to cause her baby to leap inside for joy, and for Elizabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  And if I keep on reading, I see that Elizabeth, upon being filled with the Holy Spirit, well, something happened in her and to her and through her.  She said stuff and knew stuff that didn’t just come from her. 

It’s not in her first words.  Anyone could have said that out of excitement to see someone.  No, actually, it IS even in her first words.  It’s all over everything she says and knows.  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  How did she know that there was something different and special above other women, above the natural going on inside Mary’s womb?  No one sent a letter.  Mary hadn’t talked to her earlier.  Who just told her?  The Holy Spirit.

“And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Do you hear that?  How did she know that Mary was carrying the Lord inside of her womb?  This baby was Elizabeth’s Lord.  He was a baby and yet, he was already Elizabeth’s authority, and she was already submitted under Him?  How did she know?  Who told her?  The Holy Spirit.

“For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”  How did she know it wasn’t a gas pain or the normal movement of a baby inside a mother’s womb?  Because you can tell when the Holy Spirit is moving.  There is a knowing, that you can’t explain, but you know.  And it was at the sound of Mary’s greeting, when Elizabeth heard her voice.  She didn’t need to see Mary to know she was pregnant, or to know she was pregnant with the Messiah.  She heard her greeting and she knew, and John, inside her womb, still developing, knew.  How?  How did she know?  The Holy Spirit.

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  How did Elizabeth know that the Lord had spoken to Mary?  How did Elizabeth know that Mary had responded with belief?  And how can Elizabeth call her blessed because she believed in God’s fulfilment of His words.  Is she just blessed because she gets to be the mother of Jesus?  How does Elizabeth know what she’s saying?  How does she even say this?  The Holy Spirit.

I have to stop here before I get where I thought I was going today, about where the Holy Spirit takes us in the Lord and how He enables us in the Lord to do God things instead of people things.  But then I came to this word “blessed.”  Elizabeth isn’t saying that Mary was given a special opportunity and that good fortune will come from that.  She wasn’t saying that Mary had reached a stage of happiness and contentment and there would be no misfortune or hardship in her life.  Mary wouldn’t avoid death and pain.  What was she saying?

Elizabeth was declaring that Mary had claimed the objective reality of what God had done through a divine act in her.  She wasn’t basing her life on subjective feelings.  She was basing her life on the word of God as being true and accomplished as it was spoken.  When she heard the word of God spoken to her, even though it was impossible by man’s standards that she could become impregnated without the performance of a man upon his part, she trusted in the power and word of God and the working of His Holy Spirit.  She took seriously the word of God.  It wasn’t just a teaching or a recommendation or a command.  It was truth.  It was life.  It was Jesus, the Son of God, inside of her. 

She was blessed by the Lord.  She heard it from the angel and from Elizabeth.  That didn’t give her some warm fuzzy feeling inside.  It was serious stuff.  It was the stuff of surrendering your life to whatever God required.  It was trust.  She couldn’t remain passive.  She had to act “in accord with the coming kingdom,” (Bored-this is who wrote those word in quotes) with God’s will.  It wasn’t just a description of a girl that God was happy with.  It was a girl that the Lord was using and including to bring into reality His kingdom.  To be blessed is to be a blessing, because it’s only for insiders, for those who are inside God and He is in them. 

Mary was blessed because she was joined in fulfilling God’s “prophetic pronouncement.”  She knew it was more than words; that it was reality coming into being.  She knew the truth based on the authority of the One who spoke it.  She didn’t need to investigate it, or confirm it, or check it out.  She knew it was true because it was of God.  Her ideas or thoughts had no bearing on His truth.  Hers was just to take a stand with regard to God, who had spoken.  To have only shared the content of his speaking would not be to be blessed.  The blessing is in the doing, because in the doing is the being and believing, and in being and believing in God’s words, is the part of being included in His performance of those words.  That’s the only place the blessing is. 

Mary was blessed, not because she was chosen, but because she trusted the words of God.  She surrendered her life to believing those words and allowing them to take hold of her and become her way of life.  It changed life as she knew it.  It turned her world upside down, and not hers alone.  Because she joined with God and adopted His words as her way, her truth, her life, then what blessed her life in Him, turned the whole world upside down.  Her virtue exists because God’s word was her virtue.  She understood who God was and she believed.  Why?  For the mere fact that God said so. 

Can I say that?  Can I say, “Because God said so, I believe, and I will live that out in my life?”  Can I really say that?  Do I say that and follow through like Mary?  God says, “Be angry but sin not.”  Do I believe the truth of His word and then surrender my life to them?  God says, “Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”   How about that?  What God calls sin, do I call sin and live my life in that truth?  Is God’s word my truth or do I make my own?  Am I more hungry for the temporary “blessings” of this world than I am for the blessing of God? 

I want to be like Mary.  I want to care more about the blessing of God, not what He will give me, but that I am in Him and He in me.  I want to care more about His honor than mine, about His kingdom than mine.  Because the blessing of God isn’t about what God gives me, but about all that He is when I live in Him.  The blessing of God is being in Him, looking forward to the final completion of all His promises, and remaining in Him to be there when He has completed all His promises and I am there in Him to enjoy the fullness of His presence and the ultimate everything he has for us in His perfect kingdom.  I want to be in You now Lord, so that I will be in You then.  Help me to understand the value of Your blessing every day of my life.  I believe, like Mary, that Your word will do what it says, and that Your word has the power to do what it says.  I want to live in that power every day of my life, no matter the circumstances.

God is God Through It All

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Picture credit goes to Bryce.

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’  And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38)

These are the words spoken of by a girl by our modern standards.  By Jewish tradition then, a girl could be betrothed at the age of 12.  Most Biblical scholars believe that Mary was 15 or 16 at this time.  This is a pretty foreign and scary concept for us, but it was life then.  And once we get over the fact of her age, can we see beyond that to see the maturity of her response?

Whether she was 12 or 15 when the angel spoke to her, we know that she was “highly favored” (Luke 1:28) of God.  There was something special about this girl’s heart and thoughts toward God.  He noticed.  It wasn’t that she wasn’t afraid when the angel appeared.  She was.  That’s a normal response.  But she controls her fear and listens openly to radical stuff that’s going to change her life as she knows it and change the world.  Talk about world rocking news, her life would never be the same.  And it wasn’t going to be easy for her.

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Come on now, that’s wild stuff to hear.  She could have asked, “What sign will you give me so I know this is true?”  “How will I know this is true.  The conditions aren’t quite right.”  But that wasn’t the way she asked.

She didn’t ask “How will I know this will be?” or “How will I know this is true?”  She demonstrated “pure faith and obedience.”  “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  That’s like saying, “How will you do this, considering I am a virgin?”  She didn’t doubt God.  She asked to understand.  And God grants understanding to those who want to know so they can obey.  So the angel explained God’s plan for her.  “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.”  God will do it, in His power, His way, by His Holy Spirit, so what is done and who is formed is holy—the Son of God.

And because she believed already, because she asked for direction and to be included in His plan, God let the Angel give her extra encouragement by sharing a sign to confirm.  “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  This is crazy stuff to a man’s mind.  But this is glorious stuff to a man’s mind set on God.  And for this girl, this was glorious God stuff, because she knew that nothing was impossible for God.  This wasn’t new news for her, his ability to do wonders.

So here is this young girl who doesn’t shed any doubt on the situation like Zechariah.   She doesn’t lay out a fleece, again and again, like Gideon.  She believes and obeys.  She answers, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:35-38)  Later, when she greets Elizabeth and sings her praise to the Lord, her song is full of probably “10 quotations of and allusions to the Old Testament.” (GotQuestions.org)  This girl knew scripture.  This girl knew what to expect because she was waiting for what God had promised.  And she wasn’t only waiting for it, she was walking in those promises, living in them and for them, and she was only a girl.  I’m an adult, is my walk, is my faith like that?

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”(ESV)  “For no word from God will ever fail…” (NIV)  “Every sentence of the Lord’s Word is full of power (Luke 1:37).  Not only in creation or in salvation, but also in war, whatever He says is accomplished.” (Watchman Nee)  Do I believe that like Mary?  Do I believe that every sentence of the Lord’s Word is full of power so that whether in birth or death, joy or disaster, I believe and can rejoice in God being God through it all.  Mary was a girl with her head on her shoulders firmly.  She knew that this news was not easy news, but it was God news.  She didn’t know all of the ramifications, but she knew those that mattered most.  This was God’s promise coming true and He was including her as part of it.  If that was true of me, would I be busy worrying about the rest or would the joy of that fact overwhelm my heart with joy at the thought?

The miracle in Mary was a different miracle than that in Elizabeth.  The miracle in Elizabeth was God’s miracle using “human essence” and filling John the Baptist with His Holy Spirit by His divine power.  John was still a mere man, but filled with the Holy Spirit of God.  The miracle in Mary was different.  “The conception of the Savior was God’s incarnation (John 1:14), constituted not only by the divine power, but also of the divine essence added to the human essence, hence producing the God-man of two natures—divinity and humanity.  Through this, God joined Himself to humanity that He might be manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) and might be a Man-Savior. (Luke 2:11)” (Witness Lee)

What was being done in Mary was something never done before.  And she didn’t argue it.   She said, “Lord, do with me as You please.”  It’s like making stew.  You add all the ingredients together and it becomes stew.  Stew is different than soup or spaghetti.  It’s stew.  But the ingredients in stew are still distinguishable.  The potato remains potato; the meat remains meat.  But they are stew.  And this is what God was doing in Jesus, mingling the human essence of Mary and the divine essence of God together in one God-man.  Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines “mingle” as “to combine or join (one thing with another, or two or more things together), especially so that the original elements are distinguishable in the combination.”  The original elements are still distinguishable.

Mary didn’t have to understand everything.  She just needed to trust in God’s Word, and she did.  She didn’t understand everything that God was doing in Jesus, but she trusted that He was doing whatever He had to inside of her, and she let Him.  I don’t know if she thought about how Jesus had her essence and how Jesus had God’s essence at the same time; that He was both human and divine at the same time.  I don’t know if she thought about how  “Jesus was a mingling of God and man.” (Witness Lee)  This was the beginning of her journey to understanding the God—man, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. 

But she couldn’t have understood if she didn’t believe and if she didn’t follow that belief with obedience.  Oh, that I would so readily believe the Word of God, even if it took me into uncomfortable situations.  Oh, that I would follow that belief with obedience, no matter the cost, because the blessing of being in the will of God, of knowing and belonging to God in the God-man Jesus, of knowing and being known by Him, outweighs everything else.  Oh, that my maturity in You and Your Word would bring forth that kind of response, over and over that I would be a lifetime witness to Your miracles of life and faith.

The Monster Within

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Image from http://www.wraparts.com

“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”  2 Peter 2:19

This is a verse that has woken me up at times.  This is a verse that has helped me to hold on to my faith in You, Lord.  Well, honestly, I never really thought a whole lot about the whole verse, but about the second half: “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”  And it’s funny, that upon waking up extra early this morning and going to pray, another verse came to my mind over and over: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”  But that verse doesn’t really stop there either.  It continues, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6)

Peter has been spending time in his letter encouraging believers who have been going through or will go through some rough persecution.  Not only that, he’s reminding believers who their faith was established upon and to stand firm in what they’ve been taught through the scriptures.  Where we are coming to in 2 Peter, it’s not just persecution from non-believers but another struggle as well.  There is false teaching being set forth within the churches from those who profess to be believers.  This is why he was encouraging them to remember and to put what they were taught into action.  It’s just as important for us today because the same thing is going on rampantly in the churches today.

False prophets are not just a thing of the past.  They are a thing of today.  False teachers are not a thing of the past but a thing of today as well.  Heresies creep into churches in the same forms as then, denying Jesus as the Son of God or as the only way, following sensuality, indulging in “the lust of defiling passion and despising authority.  They are just as bold and wilful, just as irrational as animals, guided by instinct.  Insatiable for sin, they want to draw others in. 

Does that sound harsh.  It’s not my words, those are Peter’s.  And I’ve been there so I can attest of its truth.  Some of us find ourselves there without realising it, but some of us willingly dive right in.  Well, maybe we were believers, right?  But what about as believers?  Are we sometimes enticed by false teaching?  Does it tickle the fancy the way we want to be tickled?  Does it “meet a need or desire” faster than God’s way?  Does it feed my lust or my passion in some way?  The funny thing is, the more you feed a beast the more it grows.  If I follow the beast of sensuality in me, it will want to be indulged more and more.  It will draw me away from the truth, from grace, from love, from redemption, and defile me causing me to despise the truth.  Before I know it, when I give in to the beast of lust and passion, I wind up just as irrational as an animal guided by instinct.  Why?  Because I’m driven by my senses or sexual desires because I’ve abandoned truth for sensual pleasure.

In Matthew 6:24, these words of Jesus are recorded, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other…”  It continues by stating, “You cannot serve God and mammon [wealth].”  But that is not all it means or means to compare.  You can’t serve God and anything else.  You could put wealth there, self, fame, family, sexuality.  There is only one Master, only One we are to serve. 

I can’t help but think of the current gender issues.  It’s not just in the U.S.  It’s all over the world.  The U.S. has already legalised homosexual marriages.  Numerous churches are condoning the same.  Right now, here in the Philippines, there are some other issues being voted on, that if it passes, would lead to legalisation of homosexual marriages here as well.  Why aren’t believers standing up against this?  Why is this creeping into the churches? 

It’s the same reason it could and did in Peter’s day.  Believers didn’t take scripture seriously.  They didn’t take the Word of God for the Word of God.  They changed it or avoided it to suit their feelings.  Peter is warning us against this.  It’s not a lesson in hate or discrimination.  It’s not telling us not to love sinners.  It’s telling us to remember who has the mighty hand here.  “Humble yourself therefore under the mighty hand of God, and he will exalt you in due time.”  Have we forgotten that God is in charge?  He has a mighty hand that will act.  Will I be on the side that receives His blessing or His anger?  That’s my choice.  Do I want to be debased or exalted?

You tell me it is about choice, just like whether one gets to take the life of a fetus inside a mother or not?  Well, yes, it is a choice.  But the choice isn’t what you think it is about.  The choice is who’s side you will be on.  The choice is who you will choose to serve, God or “mammon,” God or “some other god.”  You see, since the fall, there is the god of the air, Satan, who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whomever he can to devour, and then there is God, the lifter of our heads.  You can’t serve the god of this world and God Almighty at the same time.  You will either “hate the one, and love the other; or else [you] will hold to the one, and despise the other.”  That’s what’s happening.

People who were following Jesus grabbed on to the teaching of the god of this world, and his promises of freedom.  They bought in to the god of this world and became his slaves.  They surrendered to him, instead of holding onto Jesus, and became slaves of corruption, more and more as every day of worshipping this false god and his doctrine continues.  And then they promise that same “freedom” to others who will be led astray.  When scripture says, “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved,” it means that whoever we let vanquish us, who ever we bow down before and let rule over us, we become their slave.  I don’t want to be a slave of the god of the air and of this world.  I want none of that and I want to keep others from that as well.  What friend or family member wouldn’t fight to save someone from that master?

I can fight to win people back!  I can fight to remember God’s word faithfully as it was intended to be known and lived.  I can determine that I will only be overcome by You, God, because You are a Master who loves and Your promises are all true and all “Yes.”  I don’t have to be guided by my passions.  After all, my passions are selfish and greedy, but You are not.  In You, I am transformed.  In You, I can love as love was intended.  In You, I find my identity.  In You, I am accepted.  In You, I know that You created me specifically for me to glorify You in my life.  I have a divine purpose in You.

If we are alive, there is hope for us, no matter where we are at this moment.  Because Christ came, lived, died for us, and rose again, we can find forgiveness and redemption and a family in Him.  Don’t be overcome by sin.  Don’t believe the liar.  Freedom, real freedom is only found in Christ and He is waiting with open arms to transform us.  It doesn’t matter if I’m a prodigal or the son who stayed home, God’s arms are open wide for us to run home to Him.  You can’t serve two masters.  Serve the one who loves you and cares for you.  Let Him do the transforming that will make things right inside and out of you.

Don’t Forget the Oil in Your Lamps

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Oil lamp picture from unknown source on internet.

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…”  2 Peter 1:19

Peter hasn’t finished reminding us and stirring us up to do something, to do appropriately what ought to be done with those things we remember.  I know these truths.  I have been learning and studying Your word as a believer for probably 40 years now.  Some people have known the Lord for less time; some for longer.  But what are we doing with what we know, with the Scripture we do know?  Are we acting upon it by faith?  Am I changed by what I know?  Is it reflected in how I treat others?  Is it reflected in my life?  Is it knowledge that has become experience or is it just tucked away in my brain somewhere?

The prophetic words in scripture and all of scripture was given yesterday so that we can live today because we have a sure hope of the outcome, that one day Christ is returning, and all prophecy will be fulfilled.  The ultimate joy of that fulfilment will be no more darkness and finally being fully in Christ and fully as He is.  Do I live for then?  Am I leading others to live for then?  This was Peter’s preparation for dying, preparing others for the coming of Christ.  Why?  Because we need to prepare our hearts and lives so they will be ready to receive Him.  This requires continual reminding on our behalf; continual stirring inside of us, because we, by nature, fizzle out so easily and get distracted.

Personally, I’m in this time of life where I just feel fizzled out.  Not because of service or work.  It’s just an over 50 thing.  And I am so glad to have Peter and others who stir me up and keep me remembering what’s important so that I can act on that and not be overpowered by my fizzled feelings.  I need to be reminded over and over again of God’s precious and very great promises.  I’m sure Peter did too, and that’s why he knew the need was great for other believers to be reminded.  He was distracted by the events around the capture and crucifixion of Jesus.  Jesus knew he would be.  Jesus even reminded him, “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32) Jesus planted that in Peter so, later, at the right time, it would remind him, and he would do just that, turn again, and strengthen his brothers.  Isn’t that what Peter is doing now?  Am I so sensitive to God’s word and work in my life, that I am using it to not only be strengthened but to strengthen others?

Peter isn’t the only one who needs to pay attention to God’s word, especially His prophetic word.  We all do.  If the prophetic word was sure in the Old Testament Scriptures because it was given by God (and it was sure!), then how much more even now, in all the ways it has been confirmed since then!  That’s what Peter is saying.  He and others saw the confirmation of Christ’s glory at the transfiguration on the mountain when they also heard the voice of God confirming, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  This is the good news we have to look forward to, not only that Christ dwells in our hearts now (not just as a trophy but as a treasure to be applied, used and spent!), but that He is coming to destroy the darkness and make us fully his!

As it is right now, in this we live in a dismal world.  The Amplified Bible shares “And we have the prophetic word [made] firmer still.  You will do well to pay close attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dismal (squalid and dark) place, until the day breaks through [the gloom] and the Morning Star rises (comes into being) in your hearts.”  Peter is telling us there is an urgency here to not forget and to keep living according to what we know, despite the darkness and especially because of it.  John Piper shares, “It is night time.  The world is covered with darkness of sin and deceit and fear and greed.  (Colossians 1:12).  Everyone who inhabits this age of darkness is in danger of stumbling over some unexpected temptation or falsehood.  Our only hope to survive the night is to have a lamp going before us.  And Peter says the prophetic word, the promise of Christ’s coming, is that lamp.  And he pleads with us:  keep your eyes on it; don’t fall asleep; don’t turn away after some bewitching song in the night.  The hope of the coming of Jesus Christ is the lamp to our feet and a light to our path in a very dark world.”

“[P]ay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place…”  That’s like a lamp, not a candle.  A lamp contains oil.  The oil needs to be maintained.  It ought to bring back the parable of the ten virgins and their lamps.  Five were wise and took extra oil to fill them and five were foolish and took none with them.  When the call came at midnight that the bridegroom had arrived, all the virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.  That’s the outward show.  They cut the wick to just the right length so it would burn most effectively.  That’s good, right?  Sure, if you have oil to keep it burning, otherwise, it won’t matter how effectively your wick is trimmed when you run out of oil. 

What does that have to do with what we are talking about?  What is the lamp of my soul running on?  Am I filling it and refilling it with the promises of God in Christ?  Or am I just trimming the wick on the outside and ignoring the oil on the inside.  It’s easy enough to do.  I can make up a lot of excuses.  But it’s just foolishness if I’m not keeping my oil refilled, if I’m not prepared.  It doesn’t matter how tired I am.  That’s not an excuse.  It doesn’t matter how mad I am, how disappointed, how sad, how afraid, how worn out, or whatever.  It’s foolishness to not refill my oil in the word.  I’ll just burn out and have nothing left.  I’ll just be as dark as the world around me in the end.

I have to say, the next thoughts Peter shares are maybe a little confusing for me.  “…[U]ntil the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,” makes me feel like this is just happening, but it’s not.  But then again the Morning Star- Jesus- is already in our heart if we are believers.  So what does this mean?  It means, that it’s not fully completed.  Scripture isn’t fully fulfilled yet, just partially.  But there is coming a day, a day which will dawn like the most glorious dawn we have ever seen, when the Morning Star will return and we will be fully united!  This hope compels us, or at least it should.  This is why we walk in light as he is in the light.  This is why remembrance brings forth fruit and action.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)  No more darkness!  And can you imagine, we will be like Him, like Jesus, the “bright and morning star.” (Revelation 22:16)  So be reminded and act appropriately upon what you know because “To him who conquers and keeps my works unto the end…I will give him the bright and morning star.”  (Revelation 2:28)  I would do well to pay attention and follow through.

To Suffer As A Christian

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“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” 1 Peter 4:16 (ESV)

It’s sad but true, suffering affects everyone.  Just look at the mass shootings in Ohio, Texas, or anywhere else.  It’s not confined to one race.  It’s not confined to Christians or non-Christians.  It’s not confined to age.  It’s not confined to sexual preference.  In this instance, it’s not even confined to the ones who died from the bullet wounds.  There’s a baby without a mom.  There are parents, siblings, spouses, friends, who are suffering loss.  Suffering shows no favouritism.  Even the shooters suffer, albeit, as murderers and who knows if they were suffering from other things before it lead to murder.

“Yet if any man suffer as a Christian…”  What does that mean, “to suffer as a Christian?”  When have I stopped to see if I really understand what You and Peter wanted us to understand here?  I mean, what does it mean to be a Christian?  Does it mean I have Jesus in my heart and I go to church?  Does it mean I’ve been baptised and am a member of a church?  Does it mean I just need to know who Jesus is and believe it, therefore I’m a Christian?  Or is there something more to being a Christian?

The first century believers weren’t always called Christians.  They got that name because of their attachment to Jesus.  Society knew they were followers of Jesus, that they were disciples, believers.  The word “Christians” is only used once in the New Testament.  What it meant was that these people belonged  to “the party of Christos.”  The believers didn’t come up with this title, it was the community in Antioch’s way to ridicule them, just like the Jews ridiculed the people of Nazareth by calling them Nazarenos.  Only, the believers understood that this ridicule of who they were, actually signified that they were really living out who they were and the world could see it.  Their persecution became a pat on the back that they were walking in the way of Jesus, following His path, setting His example.  It wasn’t a badge of honor, but it was like people saying, “They’re a chip off the old block,” meaning, they are just like the One they follow.  And for believers, that’s exactly where we want to be.

Those who were being mocked by being called Christians were not just people who knew about the Messiah, Jesus.  They were not just witnesses who had seen him and been with him.  The majority had never seen him or been with him.  So what were they?  People who believed that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jewish Scriptures; that Jesus was the Son of God who had fulfilled God’s plan for our redemption.  They believed that Jesus alone was the way, the truth and the life and that no man, woman, or child can come unto the Heavenly Father without going through him, without faith and trust in his life, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection.  Christians were followers of a risen Saviour, a Saviour who had been crucified and rose again, proving he was who God said he was.  A Christian was someone who put all their “weight”, all their life in to Jesus. 

They invested their whole being, not just Sundays, not just 10%, not just as long as they could keep their job.  Not just as long as it didn’t effect their kid’s lives.  Not just as long as it didn’t cause conflict.  They discovered that Jesus was the truth, the way, and the life, and he became their truth, their way, and their life.  What have we done with the word “Christian” today?  Have we changed it into some foreign word unlike that of the original?

Believers were first called Christians at Antioch.  You can read about it in Acts 11.  Because of persecution in Jerusalem, believers spread out to other areas, including Antioch.  At first, they were preaching to the Jews only.  Then some other believers coming in started preaching to the Greek speaking Jews there.  When we come to Acts 15, we see that the Gentiles became part of the brethren as well.  The more God grew His kingdom through His disciples discipling others, the more race, culture and language barriers were broken down as people became brethren, unified by faith in Christ, unified by the living word of God.

Christianity is just a title.  It actually means to be anointed.  A believer is one who has been anointed by God, by the Holy Spirit that dwells within, to go and make more disciples, to help others come to know Jesus, the way, truth, and the life.  You don’t do that by staying in a church building.  You go.  You go to where people are who don’t know.  Isn’t it funny how sometimes God has to allow persecution in our lives so that we take those steps?  Funny how blind we can be sometimes when left in our comfort zone.

A Christian or one who belonged to Christ also held the connotation for some people of being a slave of Christ.  Being a servant or in a position of servitude was looked down upon.  But believers are taught by Jesus to treasure being a servant to God, that servanthood and humility are qualities that God honors.  After all, Jesus himself said he came to serve, not be served.  Can I say that about myself?  Would others say that about me?  That’s how the early Christians were being identified. 

The believers in Antioch were taught and encouraged “that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:23)  That means to remain no matter what, to stick like glue.  Am I cleaving to You, Lord?  Am I so grounded in You, so dependent on You, do I so love You that I would never, no matter what, let go?

Everybody is going to meet with suffering.  There are murderers like those in Ohio and Texas.  But then there are men and women, boys and girls like the believers in Antioch.  And sometime or sometimes in their lives, they will also meet with suffering, not necessarily because they are a Christian, although sometimes it will be because we are.  But sometimes, we may just suffer as Christians, maybe because we were at Walmart in Texas at just that moment, or walking by on that day in Dayton.  Peter’s point is for me not to lose heart.  God hasn’t forgotten me, just as he didn’t forget Stephen as he was being stoned to death.  Neither have You forgotten those who lose their lives in floods or earthquakes or tornados or fires; in crimes or drug induced violence or drunk driver accidents. 

If you are suffering and you are a believer, a Christian, one identified with Christ as Your all in all, Your saviour, don’t be ashamed.  Don’t lose heart.  Jesus already told you things like this would happen.  This is part of our sin-filled, imperfect world.  Glorify God instead.  Esteem God.  Magnify Him.  On what behalf?  Because of what?  Why?

Because of what we believe!  Because we know the truth!  This life isn’t the end!  Our faithful Creator will raise us to be with Him!  Our goal is to be in the presence of Jesus Himself, worshipping before the throne of God, fully satisfied in eternity with Him!  We know the way to Jesus!  And if I want to be fully with Him, there is no other way than to walk through death at His appointed time!  But death doesn’t last because He is LIFE!  Because Jesus rose from the dead, I will too, because I have placed myself in Him, as my ark of salvation, my ark of life, my ark of everything!  On behalf of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, because of who You are and what You have done and do, I can glorify God in all of this!  I am not without hope!  No matter what, I’m better than o.k.  I am Yours forever.

I can suffer pain now because I know that “…God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)  So, let me live like I believe this.  Let me live so that others, though they mock me, mark me as one of those Christians.  And let me live so that others can believe and have life eternal as well.