March 23 – Jesus said, “I Am

And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” – Mark 14:60-62 (ESV)


Our passage today from the Gospel according to Mark, covers the illegal trial of Jesus before the Seventy of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council). Witnesses have lied about Jesus and twisted His words into things Jesus never said. The High Priest wants to find legal means according to Jewish law to condemn Jesus to death. In Matthew 26:63 The High Priest is puts Jesus under oath by declaring, “by the living God” and demands an answer, an admission or denial, as to whether Jesus considered himself to be the Messiah and the Son of God.* Jesus unequivocally answered, “I AM,” meaning, “I am indeed the Christ, the Son of the Blessed.*” In fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:7, Jesus refused to reply to the false accusations or open his mouth to defend Himself. Now He responds with an absolute by saying, “You said (it), I am the Messiah, the Son of God.” Therefore, His meaning is a majestic, assertion that He is indeed The Anointed of God. “Yes, I AM.” He confirms that He is the Messiah. Our promise from Jesus is that one day we too will see Jesus come again in power with the clouds of heaven.

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*The title “Blessed One,” found in this sense only here in the New Testament, is a Jewish substitute for “God”. The Jews avoided every opportunity to say or even write the name of God YHWH and instead created substitute titles known to be references to God. These two titles of Jesus both refer to His claim to be the Messiah. The Jews also know very well the implication behind the name “I AM” for that is the name claimed by God YHWH Himself.

Christmas in the book of Isaiah

Doug Clevenger
New Life Church Clarkfield, Minnesota
December 20, 2017

https://dougclevenger.wordpress.com/2017/12/20/christmas-in-the-book-of-isaiah/

People have always had an vested interest in the future. A prudent farmer cares about the weather forecast more than he cares about current conditions. He has already prepared for today. His work today is about tomorrow.

A good stock broker scrutinizes market forecasts even more than a farmer anticipates weather. He earns the trust of investors by telling them what may happen in the future. Their lives and his livelihood depend on the accuracy of his projections.

The life insurance industry is built on the risk of possible future events. Agents depend on actuarial tables—a prediction of the future— to sell policies.

Futurists work with uncertain knowledge. They examine statistics of the past and patterns of the present to predict the future. High confidence does not come with a guarantee. They may be right about the future or they may be wrong.

Prophets don’t have that luxury. They deal with certainty, not projections. A true prophet is 100% right 100% of the time. And he places his life on the line by making a prophecy. That’s what lifts Isaiah to such high status as a prophet of God.

In The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John Martin listed 22 messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah. Some of them are about Jesus’ first advent in Bethlehem. Others refer to Christ’s second coming to reign over the earth with power.

We can find the Christmas story in the book of Isaiah with startling clarity. Here’s one prophecy:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Isaiah was speaking about both the near future and the distant future. A young woman would bear a son as a sign of God’s temporal deliverance in the time of Ahaz, King of Judah. Much later a virgin would give birth to a Son as a sign of God’s ultimate deliverance. It’s Christmas in the book of Isaiah.

The sign to Ahaz was fulfilled less than three years later when his two enemies were deposed in 732 B.C. When that happened, Ahaz knew Isaiah had foretold it. Yet God intended more in Isaiah’s words than merely the deliverance of Ahaz. The prophecy also foretold the virgin birth of Jesus.

Matthew 1:22-23 verifies the fulfillment of this prophecy in the birth of Jesus:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Here’s more of the Christmas story in another prophecy by Isaiah:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

This passage foretold the birth of Jesus 700 years before it happened. It’s Christmas in Isaiah. It tells us all we need to know about the future. God wins!

From the Setting of the Sun – It Will Always Rise Again

The setting begins about AD 44-45 and you have just entered adulthood; you are married and have started a family. Someone comes to your city and tells you the Good News and you believe. You become a follower of The Way which teaches that Jesus Christ is God and that he came to earth to live a perfect life, to suffer and be executed for no sin except the sins of the world and to rise again to a new life; and that believing in this Jesus Christ will bring to the believer a new life, an eternal life. You believed and became a child of God. People have begun to call believers such as you, Christians.

Imagine as a believer in Jesus Christ you are living in a nation that has a strange kind of religious freedom. The ruler is considered divine and you can worship your god(s) as long as you also worshiped and offered sacrifices to the official gods of the nation you lived it. The nation coveres a huge amount of land and rules over thousands and thousands of people from diverse origins and groups. Some religions are more tolerated than others but your faith and the religion that grew out of it has been pronounced by your government to be an “illegal superstition,” a crime under the law.

Some accuse people of your faith of practicing cannibalism because you observe the sacrament of Holy Communion. Symbolically eating the flesh and blood of Christ is misunderstood and condemned. This is just one of the fears that the people who do not believe and the government uses these fears to attempt to wipe out all who believe as you believe. Blamed for many things, you have become an enemy of the state just because you believe in Jesus Christ.  There is no public church you can run to for safety. There are no mega churches where you can go and be told that God loves you and will take care of you, and if you support them God will make you rich and all you need to do is just do good for yourself because God wants you to be happy.

In fact, anything that you say to anyone about your faith is likely to be reported to authorities or your neighbors themselves will take up the cause of persecuting you – it is not pretty and it is not easy and it costs a great deal to be a Christian. You and all who believe as you do are challenged each day because not only do you not have a public church, you have to meet in secret. You have no bible to carry with you and no iPhone or tablet with you favorite version of the Bible. In fact the whole Bible does not exist. Imagine how many without the Authorized King James would manage their study. “Biblical scholars” are very few and very far between. Your faith is outlawed and has no standing and no influence on the government. But you are okay and you are at peace. You do not allow anxiety to disrupt your heart and mind because you know in your heart what you believe and you know that God is with you, you’ve been taught his promises. You have decided that living for Jesus and, if necessary, to suffer and die for Him is better than the pagan and godless world around you. The society around you which you left behind when you believed is so perverse – immorality is more common than morality with women abused and used and babies are killed at will when born sometimes left out on the side of the road to die exposed to the elements – especially baby girls.

There is no Moral Majority no Council of Evangelicals, no Focus on the Family around to push an evangelical conservative and religious agenda with the government of  your nation. In fact if you were even to be presented with such a concept it would seem totally absurd and contrary to what you are learning from the small body of believer in your town. They are teaching with help of the Holy Spirit from the Holy Scriptures available, and from the letters and other writings that are circulating around the country among the churches. The disciples of Jesus Christ, now apostles of his message are teaching you how to live in a hostile and violent culture. It is not a safe vocation because some of the government officials see it as illegal activity.  Some of them eventually are arrested, put in prison, tried and put to death for their practice of teaching.  Others are persecuted because the wave upon wave of persecution from the government which is sent throughout the nation. None of these teachers are teaching how to influence the government unless it is through the effort of preaching the Gospel to all including the soldiers. God works through them to save even some of those government employees.

Actually for the next 300 years, those who are followers of The Way, the body of Christian believers which call themselves the Church, experience times of respite and then times of persecution. Depending on who the head of state is, Christians are either hunted or left alone but always, no matter what the circumstances, the message continues to be preached and the body of believers grows in spiritual maturity and strength. Some of the writings that have been circulating become accepted as part of a new portion of scripture. Sometime in the mid 3rd century, around AD 250, what comprised the  Holy Scriptures had been agreed upon by most of the leaders of the Church built on faith in Jesus Christ.

The First Promise and Covenant and now a Second – a Fulfilled Promise and Covenant come together or The Old Testament and a New Testament as we have come to know the complete Bible. By late 4th century – AD 397 – what is the bible we have today is settled by the leaders of the Church. Yet, the ordinary person still does not have a personal copy.  There still is only one version and it is not the KJV.

The first Apostles and evangelists and teachers teach others to be teachers. By the time the last of the first apostles passes from earth to heaven around AD 100, the church has become exactly what Jesus said it would, a force that even the gates of hell could not prevail against. And the gates of hell have been trying to prevail against the Church ever since. The force behind the gates of hell is Satan and his minions of demons – fallen angels with their commitment to destruction of Christ’s followers which is strong but not stronger than faith in Jesus Christ. There have been multiple times and ways that the enemy has successfully damaged the Church leading many off its original mission of going to all nations and making disciples of all people. If there is one tactic that is used more than any other it is to undermine the belief, the faith of the believer. Plant doubt and erode a believers faith and they become easier prey than those who stand firm in the faith and use their belief to counter the lies that come at them from the enemy, Satan. This remains true. The same faith that enabled and empowered believers in AD 45 or 60 or 90 is ours and just as able to empower us

Over the next 2000 years, the process of spreading the Good News and adding new people who become Followers of the Way into the Church continues and grows and it spreads across the earth. The true Church is always a threat to those in power and so it encounters many times of severe persecution throughout the world. The faithful are given a break from time to time as it was recorded in Acts 9:31, “So the church throughout … enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” But as long as the true Church spread the message and fulfilled its mission, it posed a threat to the unbelieving world even when the unbelievers are falsely and deceitfully cloaked as the church.

A key element to a continued increase was the times of not always enjoying peace. In fact persecutions have been a part of the process and necessary for the church to grow. When the church enjoys periods of no persecution for too long, it becomes lazy and it loses its way.  It gets involved in becoming part of the power structure and the government and forgets The Way that it is to follow. The season of peace and then tribulation is followed by growth and then again peace and more tribulation and more growth have been happening all over the world in different places at different time. Once in the jungle in Ecuador five followers of The Way lost their lives trying to bring the message of Christ’s love and forgiveness to a people who had never heard the message before. They were speared to death on the beach that served as a landing strip right next to their small airplane. The people they were trying to reach and who killed them ended up accepting the effort came to know the salvation of Jesus Christ as well as many more. The blood of these believers was used by God to reach an unreached people and bring many into the Church.

It is evident that the season of peace and freedom for those who are followers of The Way, or claim to be Christians in America is coming to an end. Religious freedom has been ours for nearly 200 years, for the most part. Over the past 20 years and even more because it began probably 50 years ago, the focus of the organized churches in America has shifted. This has been in response to the shift in our culture as we have disposed of pleasing God as a primary influence and we have turned to pleasing ourselves. We are doing what is right in our own eyes just as the reprobate Children of Israel did over and over again after settling in the Promised Land. And, guess what? We are about to reap in fistfuls the same judgements God sent to his chosen people.

As the church in America, or the American evangelical church has diluted its mission it has effectively and essentially turned away from following Christ’s commandment. In place of what it has turned away from is the effort to save America and the American Way of Life. We hold our freedom given by the Constitution so dear that we overlook what our primary mission is. And we have come to believe that we can’t be followers of  The Way unless we have those freedoms secure and intact.

Not every person or every church by any means but as a corporate organization across America, the church has become mostly apostate, and in some cases cold and dead. Going through the motions and pretending to know the steps, our churches are now more involved in entertainment and helping their congregation feel comfortable than they are in rooting out sin and teaching righteousness and calling sinners to repentance.  Oh and lest we forget singing God Bless America instead of preaching Americans believe and repent and be a Blessing to God.

When our churches should be preparing their congregations for the storm that is coming and in some places already here, they are being negligent. Massive “ministries” are built to reach the world for Christ, or so they say.  Evangelical Christianity is now big business. Radio, TV, Internet, and Email are all employed and books, resource of the month, DVD sets of sermons and lessons are peddled. There is a massive amount of money that must be raised they say. Stand “shoulder to shoulder” in their effort to spread the message – what message?  The honest efforts that have integrity and are accountable to God and are supported by the gifts and offerings of God’s people are lost amid the charlatans and the peddlers.  Money is siphoned off for grandiose demonstration and productions and programs, huge assemblies in key major cities across the nations and ostentatious buildings. What would be the result of honest independent audits of these ministries.  Some are good and do it with a pure heart but many are shills for making the ministers rich.

Many in the American Church find their mission in trying to exert political change. They are working to “turn our country around,” or to “restore family values,” or “stop the slide into the slough” of our culture. They ring the alarm of things that are going wrong but they continue to forget the simple purpose God gave just as he departed to heaven, “make disciples of all nations.” Restoring America’s values is more important than reaching the lost and making disciples. So, they compromise with the world and they let sin slide. Again massive amounts of money are solicited and collected to help the right politicians get elected and when they are elected, they fail to do what they were elected for. Of course, because God is not in that movement for that is not the mission of the Church – evangelical or not.

This result is the reason for this blog. We need to get ready for the result.

The Church cannot correct the state when it needs to correct itself first. Shouting about same-sex marriage as the death of traditional marriage while we have allowed the sanctity of marriage to be eroded and destroyed from our very pulpits is simply an example. If we truly want to restore the family, why are we not equally obsessed, as Christians, with the sin of single parenting, absent fathers, abandoned families? When our Church leaders have for years be excusing their marriage failures as “led by God” how can we be so concerned that two people of the same-sex choose to unite? When a professing Christian has an affair, divorces and then marries again and then has another affair, another divorce, and marries again, and then has a third divorce, and is yet the leader of a church – we as a whole are disgraced. This kind of profession of faith is nothing but a sham with no shame.

No, I am not in favor of same-sex relationships and marriages. I am opposed to that because God is opposed to it.  But I certainly do not see that as more dangerous to our society than the permissive heterosexual activity that has been so rampant within our churches for several generations with the result that our youth have no sense of what God wants of them or what sex was designed for. Co-habitation is so common that it is now considered accepted even by many in the church because we do not want to offend and we do not want to lose those members.  Nothing is said about it and nothing is done about it. God gave marriage and the sexual union as a beautiful model of his relationship with us and for the purpose made clear in Scripture which was never rescinded.

No wonder we have evangelical leaders in our nation endorsing a man who while married to his first wife, hand an affair, divorced her and married his mistress and then had an affair and divorced his second wife and married his second mistress. They endorse a man who opened casinos and established strip shows and clubs in them. They not only endorse but they actually perpetrate a lie about him being a Christian or becoming a Christian when by his own confession has never asked God for forgiveness for anything. These evangelical leaders have endorsed a different gospel and a different requirement for salvation. And yet they remain in their pulpits teaching the Word.

No wonder our country is in such turmoil with such division and we Christians are seeing a new swell of persecution. The world is facing the growth of a religion of evil that teaches hate and killing of all who do not convert to them and yet has no clue how to confront it. Split in as many ways as possible they will appease, accommodate and misunderstand while evil is exercised all around them.   But they will unite in their disdain and hate and active persecution and even eventually will get to killing those who stand for Jesus Christ. That is the course of evil and it is on the rise.

It is time to prepare, strengthen your faith, learn what is really important and worthy of dying for. And be prepared if it comes to that. Remember that the Lord God has said, “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”[Isaiah 41:10] What power and what comfort to know just that and yet he has promised so much more. He has promised eternal life and if you believe now, you already possess a life that will never end. “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25-26]

“It is better to know than to not know,” says Jesse Stone, a character created by Robert B. Parker. I agree. I would rather know that difficult days are coming than to proceed in a dreamy fog of hoping somehow things are going to go back to what they were. They never do. Did we ever get back to the Garden of Eden? Did we ever get back to the days of King Solomon? Did we ever get back to…well, think, is there a time in history, near or far, that we really want to go back to?  We can’t go back in any way and if we could it would be to everything that was there, not just the good stuff.

The world that we started with in this blog was, of course the world dominated by Rome. It did experience, a dramatic shift that changed conditions for Christians from horrible to being much better…for a while.

Constantine became emperor after fighting a civil war in which he had marked his soldiers shields with a Cross. His victory after that led him to become a strong supporter of Christianity. In AD 313, he proclaimed that every person was free “to follow the religion which he chooses.” Under Constantine, Christianity rapidly became the dominant religion. It was not long before it became indistinguishable from the power of the state. Boy O’ Boy, the religious leaders had successfully turned their country around. It was a new day dawning. No longer would the Christians be persecuted and killed for their faith. Great, huh? The hand of God has finally rescued the followers of The Way.

Well, not so fast.

Certainly God was in control because He always is in control. Every King, every Emperor, every Prime Minister, every President is in place only because God allows it.

Just 82 years after Emperor Constantine stopped the state backed persecution of Christian, in AD 395, Emperor Theodosius made Christianity Rome’s new state religion. What happened then? Christians, who had so long been on the defensive, out of love and obedience to the example and teaching of Christ, forgave all and lived happily ever after….NOT. Not a chance. Now with a new power and license from the state as the official religion, Christians turned to attacking the pagan religions. They closed temples and banned sacrifices to pagan gods. They even transformed some pagan celebrations into Christian ones. For example, the church changed the birthday of the sun god on the 25th of December into the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Source for historical references: CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS FOUNDATION / Bill of Rights in Action  / Fall 1997 (13:4) 

Do Not be a NameOnly Christian

This post is a bit about my story, my walk. I accepted Jesus Christ when I was 11 years old. I spend my early years wandering away from Christ. At 19 I began my walk with Jesus and it has been on and off. God has been with me the whole way even the many times I strayed and did not follow and had little faith.

I have generally had reservation about how boldly or forcefully I should be when talking about my faith. After all, we don’t want to offend, do we? We (I) therefore am guarded of what I say and where I say it when it comes to talking out loud to others or writing in my blogs or Facebook notes about what I believe and why I believe it.

Another factor that has added to my reticence is that I do not take criticism well. I do not take scoffing well. I do not take rejection well at all. I never have. There were enough occasions early in my Christian life that my effort to testify and witness to others met strong and even hostile resistance. That was never any fun. Often in those days I would try to engage a non-believer and it generally ended up that the ones I was able to engage were feisty people who enjoyed the battle of wits and enjoyed tripping me up with questions I could not handle. The result on my part was a feeling of failure, defeat, discouragement and inadequacy.

So, after a while I sort of eased up on my search for engagement about my faith. I would still encounter the opportunities but those times it was mostly because the other person knowing something about my profession of belief in God and Jesus Christ would initiate the engagement. These too generally ended up as arguments and battle of the wits.  I still would walk from these times feeling like a failure and defeated. I just did not have what it takes to be successful at “soul-winning.” And,  that of course simply added to my inadequacy and pushed me further away from trying.

Deciding that God had not called me to personal evangelism I settled on believing that he gave that gift to others.  It certainly was not a gift he had given to me so he must have given me something else.  After all, the Word says,  And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;”  (Ephesians 4:11-12) 

I was not really happy with this conclusion because, at the time I was in school, a school that was founded by a robust evangelist and winning souls for the Lord was simply something everyone was expected to become proficient at. At every corner along my journey and several stops between the corners I would be reminded, encouraged, instructed, exhorted and simply told that the Great Commission was mine to fulfill so it would be best if I just got to it.

“What a kind of loser You must be?” That was what I would ask myself. My answer was simple. “Total loser” – especially when it came to cold calling, broadside witnessing. And it was not for lack of training or instruction. I had the best instruction from one of the best schools with tools and examples of successful soul winners all around me.  But all I got from all that was a huge fail and I got a gigantic pack of guilt strapped to my back. I started to dread anytime I would be in a class, service, meeting that was about soul winning and especially when I knew that we would have some practical Christian work to practice at the end of the session. We would split up in 2, 3 or 4 person groups and fortified with our Bible and pocket full of tracks we would be sent out.  I hated it. I became very good at letting whoever I was with do all the talking while I “supported with prayer” from the sideline.

I want to make it clear that I was not afraid to share my testimony. I was not afraid to tell another person what I believed and why I believed it. I even was good an admitting I did not have every answer and was still learning. I actually really loved sharing my faith in situation where I did not feel threatened. Given the opportunity to talk to one or more, even a congregation of non-believers I could do it with boldness and confidence. At least as long and there was no hostile heckling or scoffing or ridicule coming my way.  When that would happen, I would slam shut like an oyster ready to nurse the little grain of sand out of sight from everyone else. I developed techniques to avoid the unpleasant feeling of failure and defeat. I became quite good at them as well. Those methods actually helped me to gain a profound knowledge and understanding of the Word of God.

Sure, I knew the Bible and was on the way to becoming an in-depth biblical scholar. I would have too but I did not quite reach that goal and I watched others in my family and other of my friends do so instead. But that is a different story.

So what now?  Those days are nearly 50 years ago. In that span I have taught many hours of adult Sunday School classes and have filled the pulpit a good number of time when needed on Sunday Morning worship with a sermon.  While I was doing that, I knew I was doing my part. Maybe not winning the souls directly but I was doing the “make disciples” part. Or, was I? I could prepare insightful lessons. I cold deliver them in a way that engaged and did not bore the classes. I was complimented on a regular basis. I put 4X to 6X the hours in preparation for each hour in presentation.  And I loved it.

I began to question the fruit. Was it there? Were lives being changed and was that even something I should be concerned about? I just never really understood why after several years of teaching the same class of adults, I just did not see significant change in the class members lives. Was it something I was doing wrong? Doubt became a companion and when that happens, it stifles Joy. My joy and my enjoyment diminished but I pressed on and tried to shake it off. God was working but it was not in a way that was easily evident. Who was i to question how God uses me?

Then, in 1992 something went wrong. I was derailed. A near train wreck which was not fatal  exactly but I was off the track and I never really got back on. There have been a few exceptions over the years – especially when we attended a new church – but I have not re-engaged in even the “make disciples.” It is something that disturbers me. It creates questions and inner struggles but by now at 66 I have learned how to brush those nagging feelings aside. I do it very well. Just not well enough for them to go totally away.

At the same time, and all the time God has been faithful and He has never given up.  For over the past 18 months or so, I have have been on a new track, and progress is evident. I have become more bold to speak the truth out with confidence and without fear of scoffers or ridicule. I know that they might be there from time to time. In fact I know that the chance of it is far greater now than 45 years ago. The scoffers and naysayers have grown in number and bolder too. Respect for religious liberty is eroding away and today it is even more likely that if I speak the truth from the Word of God that I will offend someone. But, I do not shy from that as I did then. I still do not seek to offend but I do not care if I do offend when it is the truth that I am speaking or writing.

As believers we are entering a greater storm. We are facing a greater challenge. We are less accepted and there is far less tolerance from active non-believers. They have become more aggressive and while there is still much talk about “live and let live” and about “coming together on what we can agree” the reality is that Christian are becoming more hated in this country. The soft cushion of freedom granted by the Constitution is being stripped away. We do not have leaders who honor God or even pretend to for votes as we have had for so long.

As Christians we need each other more than ever and we need to shed the dependency we have had on a “NameOnly” Christian life. NameOnly Christians are people who profess Christ but have not accepted Christ in faith believing and surrendered to Him as both Savior and Lord. They have gone through the motions, the classes, received the affirmation and been through the ceremonies but they remain on the outside of the Family of God.  They say they are Christian but their lives manifest more affection for the things of the world and the ways of the world and the attitudes of the world.  They willfully tweak the meaning of God’s Word so that it will fit their lifestyles. They want the benefits of being called Christian but they do not want to pay the cost.

NameOnly Christians have not come all the way to the foot of the cross and looked up into the bleeding face of Jesus and asked Him to forgive them and cleanse them of their rebellion and rejection and sin.  They do not look to Him and His word for specific guidance in how they should think, speak and act. They want to mold their Christianity to fit what they want first rather than be transformed by the renewing of their minds. The argue for fairness and acceptance and love of others and it becomes their perceived way to the Father. But Jesus has said that there is only one way and that is through Him. He is the only way, the only truth and the only life. If the bible says something that does not seem fair, then it must not be right because Jesus would not be unfair. NameOnly Christians judge the Word of God by what fits their sense of fairness.

NameOnly Christians are dangerous as long as they cling to their own way and their own understanding and refuse to fully acknowledge God in all their ways. True Believers in
Christ are going to be tested. So will the NameOnly Christians. The test will result in a lot of pruning and casting aside. The world and the prince of this world has already organized his forces and incited the movements to persecute True Believers. God has already promised to be with us all the time and we truly do not have to be afraid. Some True Believer may pay the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. Many in countries run by Muslims have already lost their lives by losing their heads or being hung or burned alive or summarily executed just because they profess Christ and refuse to forsake Him.

As True Believers we need to recognize the world we live in and not adapt to it but to allow the Word to renew our thinking and our mind and and we must not not shy away from our calling. If we have been duped into believing and accepting what the Word of God clearly has called sin, we need to call it sin too. It is not about how much sense it makes or how it jives with our personal sense of justice. It is only about the absolute truth given to us from God in his revelation as recorded in the Bible.

True Believers need to cleanse themselves of all the effort to walk in the light and in the world at the same time. It does not matter if the world calls us haters and intolerant and whatever kind of despicable names. We do not return evil for evil but instead we love those who hate us and say spiteful and hurtful things about us and to us.   It does matter if we reject the pure Word of God and call it something else. What God’s word meant in 60 AD, it means in 2016 AD. It has not changed its intent and meaning. People have changed their intent and meaning so many times and have tried to justify it by rearranging what they say the Bible really means. The grass withers and the flower fades but the Word of our God stands forever. Stand with it, stand on it, do not waver. God is with you True Believer and you do not have to fear what the world thinks of you or says about you.

America is not on a path to be Great Again. Actually it has not been so Great for quite some time.  The result of bad decisions to move away from honoring God and instead worshiping the created rather than the Creator has already transformed America so much we have two despicable fraudulent liars running to President. Don’t hope that we will return to something that has been gone for a long time and we are just now recognizing the seriousness of Godless leadership.

It will become more and more difficult to stand on the precepts of the Word of God.  It will become more and more challenging to hold fast your confession of hope and faith. God will always be with you and He will give  you the grace you need. Surely He will help you, surely He will uphold  you with His righteous Right Hand. Do not be afraid, God is with you wherever you go. He Himself has said that He will not desert you, nor will he forsake you.What can mere man do to you? Nothing. Even if they take you life and even if you are put to death because you profess and believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Creator of all things, you will not die for you possess Christ’s resurrected life that is eternal.  He died so that He could secure it and give it to you and secure you with His spirit.

Amen.

Hallelujah!

We Need One Another

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-26 (NASB)

A frequent response to the question about whether attending an assembly of believers on a regular basis is necessary is that one does not need to attend a “church” in order to be a Christian. Yes, that is true. Being a Christian, a Christ believer and follower who is saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and has the life of the risen Christ within them, does not require regular attendance at a gathering of believers. It does not require attendance in any way. Mostly because a true believer cannot not be apart from the church since he or she is a part of the church wherever they are. So, why does the writer of the book of Hebrews say that we should not forsake out own assembling together?

Think about it.

Why was this instruction given to us?

First, let us agree that creating a “new law” or invoking some “old law” we have lived under is not to anyone’s benefit. We do not need to re-energize any legalistic system of equating spiritual life with simply the act of regular church attendance. No – such systems are bondage and we are seeking freedom in Christ and to know why this instruction is given to us because it was not given to become a law over us.

Gathering together around the common belief that we are saved by grace has merit to such a degree that we are instructed to do so no matter how we have rationalized or reconciled our non-attendance. We gather because we need one another for encouragement, for stimulation toward love and good deeds. Can we do that by ourselves? If conditions exist where there is no possibility to gather with like-minded believers, God is faithful and still meets our needs. But where we can come together and support and share with one another, we should because we are humans and humans need this kind of support. We were not created to be solitary.

There is much that can be explored about this but today, the point is really to emphasize the one reason we really do need one another.

You see the day drawing near.

What day is that?

For believers in our day and time, there is a day coming (and it is already here for some believers) when we will be tested – our faith will be tested and we need to be ready to give an account of why we believe. We need to be strong and courageous and not tremble or be afraid. We need to be ready because Jesus promised that in this life there would be tribulation, trials, and testing. That if they persecuted Him, they will persecute us. Some will face the prospect of death because we believe. Some will lose family, some will lose businesses. Most certainly we are in a time when Christians in our country (USA) are losing the rights of religious freedom – to believe, act, speak, and operate our businesses guided by our faith. We need to be about the business of supporting one another.

The enemy of our souls is capturing the attention and affections more and more of those who hate God and despise Jesus Christ. A political movement in the guise of a religion has cloaked itself in lies about it’s mission of peace while flagrantly killing, raping, and destroying the lives innocent people. The leaders of our country in both parties seem more complicit than alarmed. We seem to have learned nothing from history of despots and evil dictators who practiced genocide. Appeasement and accommodation is again the word of the day.

Even good Christians are confused and in an effort to show the love of God they are influenced by the calls for “compassion” and “equality.” Believers are blinded by the world’s reasoning which stands in direct contrast to the Word of God and they try to find common ground which does not exist between our one true God of love and the false god of hate and violence.

These are not imaginations, these are things happening right now and only a few are standing up for what they believe. And they are paying the price.

We truly need one another at this time as we have always needed each other. We need to be in contact with others who love Jesus and follow the one and only God Almighty.

We need to be on our toes and we need to help each other be aware and alert. We need to be salt and light and that takes a covenant community.

We see the day drawing near for us and at it is even here for some – we need to be able to encourage and get encouragement from one another. We need to be spiritually integrated with each other in the love of Jesus Christ.

This is why God gave us this instruction. We need each other. Do not forsake the gathering of ourselves together to worship, teach, learn and encourage each other in the word of the Lord.

Without Wavering – Don’t Be the Chaff

Today the news in the world is once again full of what the wicked are doing in this world. And it seems like so many who say that they believe in God, in Christ Jesus, and call themselves Christian are being swallowed up by the world’s reasoning.  It also reminds us that to truly believe and to stand up for what the pure Word of God says is going to be too difficult to do without God’s understanding and His grace. A difficult time is coming for all who profess to believe the Word of God and commit to live according to its truth.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised if faithful;” Hebrews 10:23 (NASB)

Now, there is a promise that all the other promised of God can be trusted. The promise that God is faithful is enough because with God there will be no exception. “God is not a man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” Numbers 23:19 (ESV) The lesson is a simple one, God needs to say or promise something only once and he does not need to promise it over and over in order for it to be worthy of trust.  This is true of every promise.  However, the Word of God is full of repeated instances of God making the same promises. Why? If God only needs to say it once, why does he utter some of his promises over and over?

Really the answer is rather simple. The Word of God is a record of God’s activity and interaction with his creation – us.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”  John 1:1-3 (ESV) We are a part of the things that were made by the Word who is God. As God, who is not subject to the restrictions of time, interacted and communicated, instructed and corrected, blessed and disciplined His creation, it was necessary to remind us of the truth. We are the ones who forget. We are the ones who wander off from the truth and seek our own way. We are all like sheep who have gone after our own understanding and desire to conform. The Word instructs and we find it difficult so we modify the instruction to fit our time and our culture. We do not want to be offensive so we adapt our thinking. And the result is we believe what makes it easier to live in our world. It may not be true but we convince ourselves that it is true indeed.

We have each sought to go our own way separate from God and He wants to bring us back and remind us of who He is and what He has promised and what He requires of us to do kindness, to love justice and to walk humbly with Him. He does not want us leaning upon the way we understand but to learn His understanding.  Therefore he tells us again and again the He is here. He is with us. He will never leave us. He will never forsake us. He will never desert us. He will always be here to help, to provide and to guide us in the path. That is why we can trust in Him with all our heart and we do not need to lean on our own understanding of what is happening. If we acknowledge this truth, he makes our path straight and if we watch the path of our feet, our ways will be established by Him.

So when the time of our need (which is actually all the time) presses us into remembering that we must turn to God and to what we know He has promised, we can actually and honestly trust what God has already said. If we have not heard it or learned it yet, that is the reason to study and seek God through His word. That is like going to the gym to keep our physical bodies in shape. We need a spiritual and mental gym where we learn and exercise our faith as we learn His promises. He does not need to promise us but one time but he has promised multiple time about many things and we will find those promises throughout the Word of God.

For the days that are coming when our faith will be tested and when the chaff will be blown away and the dead branches thrown out and gathered and cast into the fire to be burnt, we need to know that God is the one who has promised and He is the one who is faithful.

Care for a Second Chance?

“For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Hebrews 2:18

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”  Hebrews 4:15

How many times has you wanted a “do-over”? 

How many times have you wished for a mulligan in your life – and I do not mean on the golf course where mulligans are actually possible.  The idea might be attractive but really?  Do you really want to do it again – especially in view of the state we are in in this world?  

I find it interesting when I hear people say “the times are changing and we just have to get used to it.”  Well it isn’t really the times that are changing but the people who are changing as time goes by. Of course this has always been the normal course of history for humans. There has been no time in history that society has not experienced changes.  

Perhaps in the past the change came more slowly but it always came. Today the speed of change seems to have accelerated but that may just be a matter of perspective. Perhaps change, as it has come has always seemed to come too fast for some and not fast enough for others. For those who believe it is too fast, they want to roll back to a time when things were more comfortable. They are seeking a rewind of our morals to a time when respect of each other and of God was dominate. The want the time when being a Christian did not make them a target of scorn and ridicule. But that is not what is happening. Persecution will be and is a part of our lives. If they persecuted Christ, they will persecute Christ-followers also. If they hated Christ, the will hate believers in Christ also. It has been promised.

The times are perilous and for most of us it looks like they are only getting worse.  The days of mutual respect and acceptance of people of faith are fading away. Now, today, a celebrity will receive a police escort to the Super Bowl where she will preform in a way that trashes the Police and honors organizations that support criminal behavior.  The celebrity will be praised and applauded and go on her way making millions from people who never stop to think about the disconnect in their lives. 

And when it comes to change and second chances there is nothing like what God has offered. First, He never changes. What he said thousands of years ago to Adam and Eve is still true and has never changed. So he says to us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not tremble or be dismayed. The Lord your God is with you wherever you go. He will never leave you or desert you. The only do-over we need is the one Jesus Christ has provided for us through his death and resurrection.  We do not have to face the wrath of God if we choose to believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior. Believe, accept and receive a new life that is eternal and all things in the past are forgiven and forgotten, separated as far as the east is from the west. 

Fear not. Trust in the Lord God. Ask Him for the grace and faith to live the do-over life he has made available for you completely free.  Nothing we can do can result in our earning it.  It is a gift – it really is that simple but it simply is not easy, it cost something it cost Jesus his life and people hated him for it. They still do.

Facing Down Sudden Fear

“Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes;” Proverbs 3:25 (NASB)

This blog is not about various bible translations. However, there are times when one version can cause confusion and another or several others can help us understand. 

I hear many who fear what lies ahead for us. Most hope for a revival and a restoration of our society based on Christian principles. I don’t think that going to happen. I think the clock is nearing the Day of Christ. 

What is sudden fear that we are not to be afraid of? – I think it is just what is happening. Suddenly we have things to be afraid of that we have not though of until the last 2-4 years. Things are happening that were unthinkable a very short time ago. 

What is the onslaught of the wicked? – The word “onslaught” carries the idea of an attack and so I think that the verse predicts an attack of or by the wicked. Actually is reverse is more to the point.  

A quick comparison give these two alternate readings and, at least for me, a clearer understanding. 

“Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,” Proverbs 3:25 (ESV)

“Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,” Proverbs 3:25 (NIV)

I have been fighting the effort to go down the path of pointing out where our sudden fear seems to be coming from. But I resist it because what we face now is no different than what others have faced in the past and Christ has made the provision for all of his own to live for ever even if they die.   

As a believer of Jesus Christ we can know that the future, whatever it becomes will never change the promises of our God. What Jesus has promised us will stand forever. Even in the face of death, Christians around the world are finding out that Christ is with them always and if they face death, He is still there as they die for Him. 

Dying for Christ is not shameful and it most certainly is not the end of your life. You may know some who have died as they stood faithful to their Lord and Savior. You may know some who will and it may even get much closer than that to you. Do not be afraid of that sudden fear. Nothing on this earth is more valuable than the life Christ has given to you. At sometime, as in the past, the wicked will face their ruin for their wickedness. At sometime, as in the past, faithful believers will suffer persecution and death because of their faith. The difference is what happens afterward. Stay faithful and true for Christ has promised to welcome all who die in His name. 

The wicked? Not so much. The promise for them wicked is destruction – eternal destruction. 

Stay positive in the Lord. Positive that what you read in His Word is true and focus on it – it brings strength to fight sudden fear. 

What Is With All This Hate?

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. John 15:18-19

May I see a show of hands of those who seek to be hated?

No?

None?

I didn’t think so.

None of us want to be hated. We pretty much want to be liked at least, if not loved at most. It’s not going to happen – at least not from this society.  There is a world of people out there and around us and trying to be loved or liked by them just might be one of the most dangerous goals we can set for ourselves.

Do I really have to explain that I am not suggesting we make ourselves unlikable? Do  I really need to say that I am not recommending that we make an effort to be disliked or hated? I hope that is understood.

Oh we can be liked and loved by the world if we want to but the cost is going to be pretty high. You see, all it takes to be hated by the world is to say that we love God and that we believe in Jesus Christ and have received eternal life. If his life is now in us – we are promised that we will be hated once the world finds out. And for a true believer, keeping Christ in us a secret is not our objective.

No wonder we are seeing a dramatic rise of intolerance for Christians and the principles of Christian life in our world today. No longer is persecution happening just “over there” in some country we may never go.  I has moved right here into our own back yard, and front yard and in our living rooms.  Just listen to what is said on the programs and not just a few, many.  Just read comments to posts on websites and on Facebook.  The hate is here because it has been promised.

We are not of this world, we have been chosen out of the world and the world is dead set on hating us because we love Jesus and the world ruler hates Jesus. It is and unacceptable situation to the world that we love Jesus and follow Him.

Where is the comfort in that? What is the remedy?

The comfort comes from the words Jesus spoke just a little earlier than the words he spoke above. “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” John 15:9-10  

And the promise of a Comforter that he had just given and which was fulfilled just a short time later,  “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter), that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” John 14:16-17.

Jesus did not pull any punches that last night he had supper and talked with all the disciples – he told them just the way it was going to be and for the past nearly 2000 years the truth of His words has never changed, never been withdrawn and has always been fulfilled.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Then the joy begins because then we began to see the hand of God, keeping his promises.

Trials, tribulation, persecution, hate, scorn, ridicule, even in your face pain and death cannot keep His promises of final redemption and life with Him from being fulfilled.  The challenge for us today here in America as we emerge  from the cocoon of comfortable, acceptable and easy Churchianity is to know the truth and still trust and obey. The world and its message is no place to form your beliefs; it is no place to anchor your soul; it is no place to put your trust.

There  is a very good reason that we are told to not lean on our own understanding – our own understanding comes from the world, a world that hates us. It does not tell us the truth, and it leads us down the wrong path.

It Has Been Granted – Be Thankful and Rejoice.

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake. Philippians 1:29

[This verse stayed on my mind for some time and here is another go at it.] 

Imagine yourself as a merchant in the first century about 50 AD and you live in the city of Philippi. In to your town comes a man who happens to be a Jew but not the kind of Jew you were used to seeing and knowing. This Jew has a message about a person called Jesus the Christ. After listening to him, you come to believe him and began to learn about a new way to live and a new God to worship. Your life changes and you become a part of the Philippian Church – a gathering of those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and God himself.

This travelling Jew is named Paul and he claims to be an Apostle of Jesus. One day he travels on with his message to other towns but you keep in touch through messages and letters. One day a letter arrives from this person Paul and his side-kick Timothy who you have also come to know. Things are tough in this Roman colony town because the only accepted religion and worship is that of the Roman Emperor. But you don’t worship the Emperor because you worship only God, the only true God the Father.

In this letter, Paul writes that he is in prison – but you knew that. That is why your church has sent one of your own to Rome with a care package for Paul. This member of your church has returned with this letter from Paul and Timothy. And the letter is telling you that the suffering you are experiencing is just what has been granted to you. Being a believer in Christ Jesus means that you are suffering for Christ Jesus and that it was intended, granted.

Perhaps you would rather not be granted suffering but here it is, it has been promised and it will be so. And on top of that, you are not supposed to be alarmed because of it. As a believer in Christ Jesus, I am granted the opportunity and likely the certainty that I will be oppressed and suffer because I am a believer.

This is a teaching – a concept that is not wildly understood or even accepted today. Many who call themselves Christian do anything they can to avoid oppression. After all, we do not want to offend others who do not believe as we do. After all we are supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves. After all, we live in a country that gives us the liberty to worship as we choose and without fear.

I mean to tell you today, that is going away. True believers in Christ Jesus will and are beginning to suffer opposition and hate from non-believers. Even from some who claim to be Christian but actually do not serve the Living Christ. Look again at the verse above in context of the verse before and after. (Remember, the books of the Bible were not written in this verse form – they were added later to help the study and teaching of the Word of God.)

“…in no way alarmed by your opponents – which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you and that too, from God. For to you is has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear to be in me.” Philippians 1:28-30

Philippians is a wonderful letter full of encouragement for believers who are facing trials and conflict. As a believer in the second half of the first century, this letter would have been a strong encouragement for you and can be so even today.