Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Putting a year into perspective: Lord, teach us to number our days … "

There's a verse in Psalm 90 that always causes me to put everything in my life into the perspective of God's kingdom and the reign of Jesus Christ.  Interestingly, Psalm 90 was written as a prayer by Moses, who is said to have been "the man of God."  Moses begins by reflecting on his life and the life of those who had been chosen to be the people of God:  the people of Israel.  He declares, "Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.  Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting YOU are God" (Psalm 90:1-2).

Then he goes on to state the reality of your life and mine:  "You turn men back to dust, saying, 'Return to dust, O sons of men.' For a thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.  You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning - though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered" (Psalm 90:3-4).  It is in this context that Moses prays the words that cause me to pause and to attempt to put everything in my life, including the past, the present and the future, into the perspective of God's kingdom and the reign of Jesus Christ:

"Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).

Perhaps it is easier or more common for people who have experienced life for a greater number of years, and who have faced struggles and trials of various kinds, to reflect on life in this way, yet God calls even youth to consider the brevity of life in order to live in such a way that God is glorified and we live with hope.  Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 12:1:  "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, 'I find no pleasure in them' …"  Some people are unrealistically optimistic, while others are unnecessarily pessimistic about the new year.  Attitudes are often based on past experience and future expectations.  But ultimately, the only thing that puts life into its proper perspective is understanding the truth that God reveals in His Word:  that you are here for a limited number of days and wisdom means using them wisely, to glorify God, your Creator.  As someone has said, "We all come with an expiration date!"

Such honesty tends to depress those whose hope is not in the LORD, our Creator, and who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  These want to believe that all is well, but are constantly faced with "life."  I want to end this year by encouraging those of you who have confessed your faith in Jesus Christ to stand firm in your faith, to endure, to persevere, to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles," and to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us" as we "fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:1-3).

When the people of Israel were complaining that God had forgotten about them, Isaiah wrote, "Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, 'My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God'?  Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:27-31).

Begin the new year by looking at your life … past, present and future … in the right perspective - in the light of the truth God reveals in His Word and in the light of the reign of Jesus Christ, who is even at this moment seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, ruling over all things for His people, for those who have been born again by His Spirit and who believe in Him.  Make the prayer of Moses your prayer:  "Lord teach ME to number MY days aright, that I may gain a heart of wisdom!"

Have a blessed New Year, living in God's presence and using every day to glorify Him!!

Monday, December 29, 2014

"Repentance ... the forgotten side of true faith!"

We're about to begin a new year and many people are probably thinking about making some changes ... perhaps making some "new year resolutions."  Sometimes people can make some changes in behavior through their own will-power, but often that same will turns back to the bad, even self-destructive habits, with a vengeance.  The old nature does not let go of its sinful pleasures easily.  While there are those that tell people they can do anything they set their minds to, that applies only to accomplishing certain things in this life.  A certain amount of effort can help you to achieve "success" by the world's standards, but it cannot bring about true repentance.

Before Jesus began His ministry, His cousin, John the Baptist, was "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4).  People were flocking to John and you might wonder why ... it is because people instinctively have feelings of guilt.  And those who don't, should!  Some have said that religion is based upon man's innate need to be forgiven.  Throughout our lives, and especially at death, almost all people wonder about life after death and whether they have been "good enough" to attain whatever afterlife there may be.  What people often fail to understand is the bondage they are living in today as they live for the pleasures of this world, without any thought of God or His holiness or His judgment.

The crowds came to John the Baptist and were baptized with water because it made them feel better about themselves ... "cleaner."  John proclaimed, "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I baptize you with water, but HE will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8).  John called people to repent ... Jesus would give them the ability to do it!!  The issue in the human heart is a matter of lordship.  Are you and I our own bosses?  Are we free agents?  Most people certainly think they are.  But in "doing our own thing" we reveal our stubborn rebellion against the One whom GOD has appointed Lord over all things ... JESUS!

After Jesus paid the penalty for sin, suffering in our place on the cross, He ascended into heaven and sent His Spirit into the world.  Paul writes to the Corinthians, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:3).  "Receiving Jesus into your heart,"  means more than acquiring a good luck charm, it means that you acknowledge a new Master.  Therein lies the key to repentance.  Repentance requires turning from self to Christ.  On the day of Pentecost the people were convicted by Peter's words about Jesus' crucifixion, His subsequent resurrection and His ascension into heaven.  They cried out, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37).  They couldn't take their actions back.  They had rejected Jesus and cried out to Pilate to crucify Him!

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).  Some have taken this to mean that the old nature can, by an act of the will, choose to repent and believe, but a more accurate reading points to the fact that repentance is the partner of true faith, and true faith is the work of the very Spirit of God within us.  You might think that this is like the question, "Which came first:  the chicken or the egg?"  I always laugh at that question because the answer is so obvious:  the chicken!!  God created the chicken to lay eggs.  In the same way, God creates a new heart in sinners like you and me and the result is repentance and faith ... the promised gift that comes from the Holy Spirit.

What an incredible way to begin the new year, knowing that the Spirit of God is at work within you!  Repentance is not always a fun thing, but true repentance IS always a good thing.  After correcting the believers in Corinth and seeing them turn from their sin, Paul wrote, "Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it.  Though I did regret it - I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while - yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.  For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (II Corinthians 7:8-10).

Guilt that drives you away from God is from Satan or the old nature or from the world around you, but guilt that drives you to your knees in confession and repentance is from the Spirit, leading you to Christ for forgiveness and empowering you to turn from sin to follow the path of righteousness for the glory of the God who saved you by His mercy and grace.  As you head into the new year, don't just make some half-hearted attempt to change a behavior.  Draw near to God through faith in Jesus Christ and rest in His power to transform you into His likeness.  He will complete the work He has begun ... or begin a new work in a heart surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

He is able and willing to do all He has promised.  Don't settle for less!!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

"The truth about 'Zionism' ... "

"Zionism" as a movement had its beginnings in the 1890's as a movement to create a homeland for the world's Jews who had been dispersed throughout the world for centuries, in effect, since the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.  From a purely human perspective there was no compelling reason to do so.  But from GOD's perspective, there was every reason to do so.  As we closed the year in worship this morning I shared a message about the coming new heaven and earth that Isaiah (Isaiah 65:17-19) and Peter (II Peter 3:13) and John (Revelation 21:1) point to as the culmination of God's plan for mankind and for the earth ... this planet upon which we live.

While God's plan points towards the creation of a new heaven and earth, there are events clearly outlined in Scripture which must take place before Jesus comes.  ONE of those was the creation of a homeland for the Jews and another is the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.  You see, the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the land given by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants almost four thousand years ago, happened because GOD made it happen.  A quick review of history from 1890 to 1948 reveals the utter impossibility of Israel's existence as a homeland for the Jews apart from divine intervention.

Isaiah writes, "Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment?  Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children" (Isaiah 66:8).  God brought forth this nation and has protected her from her enemies since 1948 in remarkable ways.  "Zionism" is now defined as the belief that God has a future plan for Israel, Jerusalem and the temple which will lead to the return of Jesus Christ.  None of this is subject to mere human desire or actions, whether by Israel or the nations that surround them.  God orders the nations and the rulers of the nations in order to accomplish HIS plans.  Israel and Jerusalem and the Jewish people exist by God's will and His purposes - to bring glory to Himself!

As you hear about more settlements being built for the now more than 6 million Jews who have returned to Israel since 1948, the words of Isaiah 49 speak volumes:  "Though you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste, now you will be too small for your people and those who devoured you will be far away.  The children born during your bereavement will yet say in your hearing, 'This place is too small for us; give us more space to live in'" (Isaiah 49:19-20).  So it is today. Isaiah speaks over and over of the future of Israel and of Jerusalem.  The rest of the prophets, Jesus and the New Testament writers all point to this future fulfillment.

So why do so many in the visible church today ignore these prophecies?  Because they have mistakenly been taught that the Church has replaced Israel.  But the simple answer to that is found in II Corinthians 6:2 ... we are living in the "day of salvation."  This is the time when Jew and Gentile believers are brought together into the Church, but that does not change God's promises to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah and other prophets, along with Jesus in the Gospels, as well as Paul, Peter and John, all point to specific events that are taking place and will take place regarding Jerusalem, the temple, Israel and the Jewish people.

One familiar denomination states the following on their website:  "From a Reformed perspective, Christian Zionism and dispensationalism are not only faulty readings of Scripture, they have proven to be great hindrances to a just peace and stability in the Middle East."  Such statements reveal not only an ignorance of Scripture, but also a perverted view of history!  The Jewish homeland, including the nation of Israel and the Jewish people hold the central place in GOD's plans for the future, not only the future of mankind, but the future of the planet!!

Statements like these are common and arise from a humanistic view of the world that believes that "peace on earth" will happen when we all figure out how to get along.  Those who say and teach these things believe that such a peace is more important than the fulfillment of God's promises to His chosen people, those from Israel and from the Gentiles.  They totally miss the fact that God's glory is tied to the fulfillment of His promises to the Jewish people ... because GOD made it that way.  If God fails to keep His promises to THEM, how do we know He will keep His promises to US??  Have we been more faithful than Israel??  God's promises are based on grace to those who believe in Jesus Christ and in the truth of His Word, beginning to end.

I invite you to listen to the message (and if you already heard it, perhaps to listen again and study the passages), and then send your questions to me at ... "Zionism" is more than a movement orchestrated by mankind; it is a move of God to bring humanity and the world in which we live, including planet earth, to God's intended conclusion and to the NEW BEGINNING God has planned for those who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ.

That's the truth about "Zionism" ...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"So what now?"

When someone brought me a "Read Through the Bible in a Year Plan" last year at this time, I presented it to the congregation I serve and promised that if some of them would read through the Bible with me, I would make a commitment to write a daily blog on the reading for that day.  Some did and we began a year ago.  Amazingly, God gave me health and strength to go through the whole year without missing a day.  Actually, I did make one post at 12:03 a.m., but it was still there for the early risers the next day.  God's grace is sufficient for our every need and His Spirit gives wisdom to those who ask.  Every time you read God's Word, ask His Spirit to be your Teacher.  God hears that prayer every time.

Some have told me they want to go through the Bible again.  All the blogs will remain on our website:  Just keep going to "Blog" and click on the month and then the day (2014).  I also hope to put all the blogs together in some kind of written format that would be available sometime next year.  You'll be the first to know!!  Others have asked if I am going to keep writing blogs every day and my answer is ... MOST days.  I would say that I still have a lot to say, but the reason I still have a lot to say is because there is so much more in God's Word.  God's Word is a treasure that holds within it all you and I need to know about God, about life, about the future and the past, about our purpose and much, much more.  Jesus IS the Way, the Truth and the Life!

Throughout the coming year I am planning to continue to write, but I am committed to continuing to write about the truth of God's Word.  It really doesn't matter what I say ... what matters is what GOD says.  "All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable to teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work"  (II Timothy 3:16-17).  This is where YOU can help.

As a pastor I know people often have questions they want to ask about God's Word but either feel uncomfortable asking or don't get an opportunity to do so.  I want to encourage you to ask your questions, so you can send them to me at my email: ... I promise I won't harass you or put you on a mailing list of any kind!!  I won't even respond directly to your email - unless you ask me to.  If you have a question about what God says in His Word there are quite probably other people who have the same or a similar question.  I would love to use this blog to help people all over the world understand the truth of God's Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am also aware that there is much false teaching ... in other religions AND, sadly, in the visible church.  There are controversial subjects and debates over what Scripture says about certain social issues.  I will address these, too, as time allows.

I am also planning to work on my "End Times" study, with the hope that it will be ready for publication some time during the year, Lord willing.  The signs of the near return of Jesus are all around us.  From time-to-time I will write about current events, trying to connect Scripture prophecy with what is going on in the world around us.  I sincerely believe that it is possible, if not likely, that the youngest among us (if not more) will see these things unfold.  Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:4 that those who believe and who know God's Word will not be surprised when that day comes.

Meanwhile, it is time to worship the LORD with His people on the LORD's Day!  He is worthy!!  Worship in the name of Jesus Christ and rejoice in His love for you today and every day as you love Him back.  God's blessings to each of you.  I look forward to hearing from you and continuing to share God's Word with you in the days ahead. ...

Friday, December 26, 2014

"Your kingdom come … "

Day #364:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 27th

Scripture Reading:  Acts 27 - 28 …

What if God doesn't have the wisdom or the power necessary to do what He says He will do?  What if, in the end, it really is up to the human race to "create a better world"?  What if, in the middle of the chaos all around us, God is not sovereign, He is not in control?  What if He has left the future in our hands and our only hope is that we either discover life on another planet (I'm not sure what good that would do!), or figure out "where we came from" (doesn't Genesis 1 tell us?!).  This is real life-and-death "stuff," because either God IS in control and His Word is true and everything will come to pass just as He says it will … OR … or you are left "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12).

As we come to the end of the year and now to the end of the book of Acts, the work of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles to establish the Church on the earth during this "day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2), it is vital to see, understand and accept that all these things happened under the direction and guidance of the God who works everything according to His divine plan to gather for Himself a people and to establish His kingdom on a new earth where He will actually and literally live WITH us throughout all eternity, forever and ever!!  So as we read these last two chapters of Acts, ask yourself if you see a sovereign God controlling the events, down to the very smallest details, and if so, is He the God YOU believe in?

Chapter 27 begins with a decision being made to transfer Paul and other prisoners to Rome.  Remember that Paul could have been set free by Festus if he had not appealed to Rome, but it was God's desire to have Paul testify in Rome before Caesar (27:24).  The journey from Caesarea to Rome would not be an easy one!  Paul advised them not to complete the trip as winter was setting in, but they refused to listen to him.  The winds were against them and finally a storm of hurricane force threatened to destroy the ship and all aboard.  Luke, the writer of this book of Acts, was with Paul, and he writes, "We finally gave up all hope of being saved" (27:20).  They had food aboard, but the storms were so ferocious and they were battling so hard night and day to save the ship that they had not eaten for many days.

Now Paul stood up before them and said, "Men, you should have taken my advice … But now, I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost!" (27:22).  How did Paul know that?  He explains that an angel of the Lord had brought him a message that God wanted him to testify before Caesar and because of that, He was going to save all those who were on board.  Paul believed God would do exactly as He said He would.  After more days had passed, some of the sailors decided to save themselves and were about to launch the lifeboats, but again Paul said, "Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved" (27:31).  Why?  For no other reason than this is what God had said!

We and the people around us make decisions all the time.  Sometimes those decisions may be good decisions from our perspective and other times we may change our minds, but God never makes a mistake.  Knowing the outcome of all of our decisions, God can and does at times stop people from doing things that would affect His set purposes, while at other times allowing them to go the wrong direction, knowing how He will at a later time turn the events to work according to His plan.  As Moses said all the way back in Deuteronomy 29:29:  "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law."  God shows His people that He is sovereign, that He is faithful, that He always keeps His promises, and then He calls us to trust and obey.  As the old hymn says, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey!"

Finally, the ship arrived at Malta and though the ship was destroyed, all the people on the ship, some 276 of them, made it safely to shore.  As God had told Paul, not one person was lost.  Even here we see God's sovereign purpose in the lives of the people of Malta.  What appeared to men as a "chance" happening, immediately touched the people there as Paul healed the sick and preached the Gospel.  We will not know until eternity how many of the people on the island were saved because Paul "accidentally" arrived there because of the storms.  What circumstances in your life seem to have happened by chance but are, in reality, the very hand of God at work drawing you to Him?!

After three months on the island, they set sail from Malta and Paul finally arrived in Rome (God's destination).  Luke writes, "When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him" (28:16).  It was still Paul's desire to reach out to the Jews, even though it was because of them that he had been put in jail for two years in Caesarea and almost killed.  He called the Jews who had been scattered to Rome to meet with him and explained that "it is because of the hope of Israel (the promise of the Messiah) that I am bound with this chain" (28:20).  They listened as he shared the Gospel, explaining and declaring to them "the kingdom of God" (28:23), but while some believed, most remained unconvinced that Jesus was the Christ, the fulfillment of what the prophets had written.

Paul quoted to them the passage from Isaiah 6:9-10 that explained the stubborn unbelief of Israel and how even that was part of God's plan and then declared, "Therefore, I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles and THEY will listen!" (28:28).  In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believer; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Romans 1:16).  This was God's plan to fulfill His promise to Abraham that in His "Seed" all nations on the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).  God was and is calling some to Himself through the Gospel of Christ, God's chosen means to bring His chosen ones from death to life!

The book of Acts ends with these words:  "For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him.  Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ" (28:30-31).  According to tradition, Paul would eventually die for his faith in Jesus, but not until he had fulfilled God's purpose for his life - to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles and to write all that God intended for him to write.  Even from his imprisonment in Rome Paul continued to write to the churches that God had used him to establish throughout Asia Minor, and to Timothy, Titus and others.  He told the Philippian believers not to be ashamed of his chains, explaining,

" … what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly" (Philippians 1:12-14).  If Paul had not known and believed in the sovereign God who ruled over the events of his life, he may have become discouraged and frustrated and others would have done the same, but instead, in the midst of his struggles and trials he continued to testify that God was at work, His kingdom was advancing and that those who trusted in Him need never be ashamed.

Can you and I say the same?  We live in a world that is in so many ways radically different than that of the first century believers.  Yet, the reality is that people are just the same.  God is still at work, calling people to Himself through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the world and even some within the church (like the Jews) fight against us and the Gospel.  We are called to persevere, to endure, to set our eyes on Jesus, believing that the kingdom of God will not come in its fulness until Jesus returns.  Until then, we are ambassadors of Christ, calling people to believe in Him for forgiveness and salvation, even eternal life.

There is a group of churches that have taken the name, "Acts 29."  In essence, all true believers are part of the "Acts 29" church … that which comes after Acts 28!  There must be more to do, for when the last one of Jesus' sheep, those whom God has given to Him, has believed, THEN the end will come.  We will know the work is done when we hear trumpets and are gathered together to meet the Lord in the air.  Until then there is more to do and we have been chosen, called, adopted, redeemed and sent to accomplish all that God intends.

We do not devise earthly means to bring people to Christ as some may do, but rather, preach the Word, believing what God said to the prophet Isaiah so long ago, "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my Word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11).

It has been and continues to be my prayer that in reading through God's Word this year you have heard the voice of God speaking to you and have been drawn into a deeper relationship of trust and obedience with Him through faith in Jesus Christ.  I know that only by the work of His Spirit within you can that happen, so I continue to pray for you and all who may read these words, that through my testimony and that of others who believe, you may know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord and discover the joy, the peace and the hope of LIFE in Him!

 … to be continued …

"Heavenly Father, what a joy and privilege to be able to share Your Word with my brothers and sisters in Christ who have read through Your Word seeking truth this past year.  Thank You for the health and strength to persevere, not only in writing, but in reading and in living with You and for You.  By Your grace alone we are united to Christ and by Your Spirit I renew my commitment to the work of Your kingdom, desiring to see Your kingdom advance and Your Name be exalted.  To You, O Lord my God, be glory and honor and praise, now and forever, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"And it all comes down to this ... "

Day #363:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 26th

Scripture Reading:  Revelation 18 - 22 ...

All most people know of what the Bible teaches concerning the future is that Jesus will return.  Neither the events leading up to His coming nor those which take place afterwards are subjects that most people care about, yet it is here that we see the wisdom of God, the majesty of God, the power of God and the glory of God in its fulness.  It is here that the kingdom of God reaches its culmination as Jesus reigns over all the earth for a thousand years and then God comes to dwell on a new earth in the midst of those who are His people - forever!

But first, evil and everything associated with Satan and his kingdom must be utterly and totally destroyed.  "Babylon the Great" may be a literal city, but also represents all the evil in the world that opposes God and His kingdom.  It is the opposite of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, that will come to earth.  Chapter 18, verse 2 is actually a quote from Isaiah 21:9:  "Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses.  And he gives back the answer: 'Babylon has fallen, has fallen!  All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!'"  So now John writes, "Fallen!  Fallen is Babylon the Great! ... the kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries" (18:2-3).

The economic systems at work in our world today occasionally "crash," but at this moment they all crash at the same time.  We have seen glimpses of such a collapse, but this will be orchestrated by God Himself.  The Antichrist and those who follow him have attempted to hold on, to endure, in spite of the rapture of the Church and the worldwide effect of God's judgments, but now they fall.  "In one day her plagues will overtake her; death, mourning and famine.  She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her" (18:8).  So John announces, "Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power!  In one hour your doom has come!" (18:10).  "Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!  In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!" (18:17).  "Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!  Rejoice over her, O heaven!  Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets!  God has judged her for the way she treated you" (18:20).

Those who do not know God, who have not trusted in Jesus Christ, who do not understand sin and salvation and all that God has done in Christ to save His people, don't want to think about judgment or talk about judgment or even believe there will be judgment.  But we who love God, who by His grace have received forgiveness and life through faith in Jesus, long for the defeat of His enemies and ours.  It is not surprising, then, that Chapter 18 is followed by the opening words of Chapter 19:  "After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting, 'Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments!'" (19:1).  The word, "Hallelujah!" is reserved for this moment in time.  It is not found elsewhere in the Bible.  "Praise Jehovah, Yahweh (YHWH), the Great I AM!!"

In heaven the wedding supper of the Lamb is celebrated as the saints and angels gather around the throne.  "For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.  Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear" (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints - 19:8).  The works of the saints have not earned their invitation to the wedding supper of the Lamb, but are rather the result of the Spirit of God within us.  "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. FOR we are GOD's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Loving and serving God is the evidence of faith that leads to eternal life in the presence of God.

Now the time has come for Jesus to return to the earth WITH His angelic army to defeat the Antichrist and the False Prophet and all who follow them.  Chapter 19:11-21 gives us some of the details.  And then it begins ... the thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth that the prophets spoke about ... the time when Jesus, the Christ, God's Anointed (Psalm 2) will reign over all the nations (Zechariah 14) with an iron scepter (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:27, 12:5, 19:15).  Those who were put to death by the Antichrist now reign with Christ as Satan is bound.  This period of time will be a time of vindication for the prophets and the saints, for all who have believed in the one true God, the God of salvation, and His promised Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, the King!  God said it ... so let it be written; so let it be done!!

At the end of the thousand years Satan is released to deceive the nations once more (those who have lived under Christ's reign and yet have not believed in Him), but God sends fire down from heaven (literally) to destroy them and Satan himself is thrown into the lake of burning sulfur where he will be tormented forever and ever.  The final declaration of God's judgment is made public (20:11-15) and then it happens:  the holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes down from heaven and "now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (21:3-5).

Political and religious rulers today speak of a "new world order," but it is not THIS new order they are talking about ... it is Babylon!  Only GOD will bring in this new world order by the power of His Word.  As John sees the city of God he writes, "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp" (21:22-23).  And notice something else:  "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (21:27).

For these, for you who have trusted in Christ Jesus, who have been born again by His Spirit, who have believed in Him for forgiveness and eternal life, THIS is our future!!  " ... the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb ... and on each side of the river stood the tree of life ... No longer will there be any curse.  The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him.  They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.  There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.  And they will reign forever and ever!" (22:1-5).

As John sees these visions, Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming soon!  Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book. ...  Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with Me, and I will give to everyone according to what He has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.  Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life" (22:12-13).  Can there be any other response for those who know the Lord Jesus other than, "COME!"?

"The Spirit and the bride says, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the FREE gift of the water of life. ...  AMEN!  Come, Lord Jesus!  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people.  Amen!" (22:17-21).  So it is written, so let it be done!  Everything that is going on in your life and in the world today comes down to this:  do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?  Have you put your trust in Him?  Have you repented of sin and are you living for Him today, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness?  This life is temporary, but what lies ahead is eternal ... either eternal life or eternal death.  May the Spirit of God confirm in your heart and your mind that you are His, or may He call you today to lay down your life at His feet and come to know that your name is written in His book of life.

To GOD be the glory, now and forever!!

"O Lord, my God, my Father in heaven, it is with the sure and certain hope of salvation that I come to You, praising You for who You are and thanking You for Your gift of salvation through Your Son Jesus Christ!  Your Word is alive and Your Spirit has given me understanding so that with all who believe in Jesus I KNOW that I have eternal life, a gift received because of Your wonderful grace to me.  Father, in the midst of all that is happening today and all that will happen tomorrow and the future, I place my trust in You, my Savior and my God, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Come away with me … "

Day #362:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 25th

Scripture Reading:  Song of Songs 7 - 8 …

The marriage of Christ and His Church awaits its consummation as the preparations of the wedding supper of the Lamb and His Bride near their completion.  Those who belong to Christ long for His return, watching the signs and waiting for the sounds of trumpets!!  With the Apostle Paul and those who have gone before us who have believed in Jesus Christ we say with confidence, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing" (II Timothy 4:8).  While we trust our Father in heaven and live to serve Him in this present world, we agree that "if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (I Corinthians 15:19).

Our friends, those closest to us, watch our interactions with the Bridegroom.  Those around us need hope that love can be found, that it can be experienced, that it is real!  Where will they see love in its purest form on the earth except in Christ's Bride, the Church?  After washing the disciples' feet, Jesus says, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).  As we who are brothers and sisters in Christ love one another, the world sees the love we have for Christ and His love for us.  Much of the world today languishes in hatred and bitterness because there is no love to be found.  Many have even given up on finding such love, even in the Body of Christ!

Yet it is of this love that Solomon writes.  The "Lover" and the "Beloved" ARE Christ and His Church, and the intimacy expressed exceeds that of mere physical intimacy.  For so long we have failed to understand the longing and desire God has for US, whom He has chosen before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).  The "beloved" declares, "I belong to my love, and His desire is for me" (7:10). She speaks of going away and giving her love to her "lover" (7:12).  Our love for Christ can only be the response of hearts moved by His love for us.  It is because "God SO loved" us that He gave His Son and because Jesus so loves His sheep that He gave His life for us on the cross.  If you miss LOVE as the motivating factor in God's love for you, you have missed Christ and His Spirit is not within you.

Obedience flows out of love and where love is absent obedience becomes a job, a task, a chore, a burden to be avoided, but this is not the description of the love of the "beloved" for her "lover."  There is desire, there is longing, there is the willing and complete giving of oneself.  Such love is the love that has been aroused by the love that has first been received.  The "beloved" has done nothing to earn or deserve the love of her "lover."  "If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned" (8:7).  What could you or I possibly do to earn God's love for us in Christ Jesus?

Paul expresses the truth of our situation in Romans 5:6-8:  "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

The verses we have looked at before from Ephesians 5:22-33 explain the love of the Church for Christ and the love of Christ for the Church:  "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (5:25-27).  Oh, what a beautiful and moving picture!  And it is this Bride that Jesus longs for as He awaits His return for her, His beloved.

"Thus I have become in His eyes like one bringing contentment" (8:10).  Can you possibly imagine this?  That Jesus Christ receives joy, contentment, satisfaction from His Bride … from you and from me?  Yet this is also what John wrote about in his letter to the churches:  "This is how God showed His love among us:  He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us" (I John 4:9-12).

God's love is made complete in us as the circle of His love flows through Christ to us and then back to Him, bringing joy and satisfaction and contentment.  As someone has said, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him," and when we are satisfied in HIM, God finds joy and satisfaction in US!!  Once you have experienced this love, it takes precedence over everything else in your life.  Your love for God is shown in your love for your spouse, family, friends in the Body of Christ and even those around you.  God's love is like a well that overflows with living water and touches the lives of those with whom you come in contact.  Still, it is in that intimate, personal relationship with Christ that you discover true joy and intimacy.

While in this world, we can only begin to understand and to experience such love.  We know there is more.  "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (I Corinthians 13:12).  Paul would write to the Philippians, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two:  I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far …" (Philippians 1:20-23).  Do you possess such a desire for Christ?  Or are your thoughts and desires tied to the things of this world?

The beauty of the intimacy portrayed in Solomon's "Song of Songs" reveals the beauty of what we who believe will experience when Christ comes to take us away.  Perhaps the closing words of the song are meant to be like the closing words of John's Revelation.  Here the beloved says, "Come away, my lover …"  (8:14), and in Revelation 22:20, the Bride responds to Jesus' promise to come soon by saying, "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!"

So now, "the Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life" (Revelation 22:17).  By His Spirit and Word God is calling to His children, His chosen ones, those who are part of the Bride.  Those who are given ears to hear respond in love and thanksgiving as we live in this world with longing and desire, awaiting the sounding of trumpets announcing the Bridegroom's return.  We know that our passion for Christ is exceeded by His passion and desire for us and so we persevere, we endure, we serve and we love, pointing others to Him and finding joy in His presence even now.

May the hope and joy of His birth and the knowledge of His love overwhelm and amaze you and give you joy and peace as you look to the new year … watching and waiting … and listening for the sound of trumpets!!

"My heavenly Father, I come to You in the love of Christ … His love for me and my love for Him.  Awaken within me the passion and desire and longing for Christ that transforms my heart and my mind and pulls me away from the things of this world.  Give me grace to love as I am loved by You and to share the love of Christ with those around me, especially in my family and in YOUR family, the remnant, the true Body of Christ, the Church, the 'called-out ones.'  Let the light of Your love that You have placed within me shine to all the world until I see my Savior face to face and love reaches its fullness.  To You, my Lord and my God, I give my love.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Can you truly rejoice in the Lord and praise Him?"

Day #361:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 24th

Scripture Reading:  Psalms 149 - 150 …

A lot of people will sing a lot of songs about Jesus as we celebrate His birth, but will they really experience true joy?  Will their music bring praise to the One whose birthday we celebrate?  Not everyone can celebrate Christ, so to expect them to use His name to describe their holiday is really not realistic and perhaps even unfair.  They don't know Him, and they don't want to know Him.  They don't see their need to know Him or to love Him.  Jesus Christ came for HIS people, for those who by the power of His Spirit would receive the testimony of His Word that He is the Christ, the eternal Son of God, and who would trust in His sacrifice on the cross for forgiveness and righteousness and life.  These the Bible calls "saints," "holy ones," because "by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Hebrews 10:14).

I have said before that the Bible is written to God's people.  Other people can read it, and it is by the Spirit opening a person's mind and heart to hear God's Word that we are saved (Romans 10:17), but those without the Spirit cannot and will not understand what God reveals in His Word.  Many who were part of the nation of Israel were not "saints," were not part of the remnant that God called to be His.  The Apostle Paul, himself a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a part of the people of Israel, a Jew, wrote, "It is not as though God's Word had failed (because not all had believed).  For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children" (Romans 9:6-7).  Those who are "saints" are those who are chosen by God and who are given the gift of faith to believe in God's grace through the promised Savior, whom we now know to be Jesus, the Christ.

So the Psalmist writes, "Praise the LORD.  Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the saints.  Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King!" (149:1-2).  Not everyone can or will rejoice in God, their Creator.  In fact, Paul writes in Romans 1 that "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20).

Rejoicing in God does not come naturally!  In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of people who want nothing to do with the celebration of Christ's birth, including those of all the other religions of the world.  And when it comes to the other religions of the world, there is precious little "rejoicing" being done.  "Religion" is a vain attempt to somehow appease a god that people do not know.  Why would people rejoice in a god who demanded that they live a certain way, and who threatened judgment if they stepped out of line, even a little bit?  That's the way many view Christianity.  It's a bunch of rules that you have to keep and that some hypocrites think they have done better than others so that they can judge the rest of us.  As some quickly proclaim, "They're no better than I am; and they sure aren't 'saints'!"

Of course, that's true.  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory (the majestic perfection) of God" (Romans 3:23).  So what is there to rejoice about?  Read on:  "For the LORD takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with salvation.  Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds" (149:4-5).  Those who are "saints" are not those who have declared themselves to be saints or who have been declared saints by someone else or by the church.  Those who are truly "saints," in God's sight, are those who have humbly confessed their sin and who come to God with empty hands, admitting that we have nothing to offer God that He should forgive us, but rather, that we believe in His promise that in the Savior, in the shedding of HIS blood on the cross, our debt has been paid and we owe our lives utterly and totally to Him.  The Bible calls that "GRACE!"

Grace is the only way to approach the holy God.  It is HE who "crowns the humble with salvation."  "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith (and that not from yourselves, it is the gift of God), not by works, so that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).  It is an honor, a privilege, to be one of God's children.  It is all HIS work, and life in Christ is received as a gift, not as something earned.  The Word of God is like a "double-edged sword," that brings healing to some and judgment to others (149:6-8).  To those who try to hide their sin from God and who reject His pronouncement of judgment to come, we read in Hebrews 4:12-13:

"For the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account."

The "glory of all His saints" is found in hearing God's Word and being able to rejoice in His justice as we receive His grace.  How few people do that today?  Many want to continually tell God what to do and put Him on trial, as it were, if He doesn't do what they think He should.  They say that God must love everyone the same and that ultimately He must save everyone.  That would be "fair."  But GOD says, "The wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  We who are "justified," declared righteous by God through faith in Jesus Christ, know that we are holy in His sight only because our debt has been paid by His sacrifice on the cross and because His Spirit has opened our hearts and minds to hear and believe the Gospel.  Can you see now why it is only we who know the Savior who can rejoice in the Lord and praise our God?!!

So these 150 songs end with the call to PRAISE HIM!  The call goes out to everyone and everything: "Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!"  (150:6).  Sadly, most people will reject that call and God's offer of forgiveness through faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Savior, and God tells us that it will be so.  But once you have heard the Gospel, you can never go back and "un-hear" it.  "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels (the Law) was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall WE escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:1-3).

We have seen that we live in "the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).  Very few people were saved from God's judgment in the centuries before the birth of Jesus.  The nations of the world lay in darkness and most of those who were called to be the people of God, who were part of the nation of Israel, were displeasing to God because of their disobedience and their idolatry.  We live in this time of grace, but that does not mean that God overlooks sin.  On the contrary, all of us are sinners and there is only one way to be saved from God's coming judgment and that is through faith in Jesus.  It is only when you have placed your trust in HIM alone, when with empty hands you come to God, confessing your sin and claiming the blood of Jesus as the only payment (atonement) for your sin, that you receive God's forgiveness and His gift of eternal life in His presence.

It is we, then, who are declared BY GOD to be "saints," "holy ones," who can "Praise the LORD" (150:1), not because we HAVE to, but because we WANT to!!  And it is only we who can and will rejoice in God our Savior and our Lord:

"Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens.  Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness.  Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with tambourine and dancing, praise Him with the strings and flute, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals.  Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.  PRAISE THE LORD!" (150:1-6).

"O LORD, my God, I praise YOU and I rejoice in YOU!!!  I am a sinner, saved by grace, and I humbly receive the salvation that is mine through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  Move my heart, O God, to rejoice in You, my Creator, for long before I have loved You, You have delighted in me, Your child.  When I think that You see me in Christ as holy and that You call me a "saint," my heart is overwhelmed with thanksgiving and praise!  Thank You, Father, for Your amazing, wonderful, marvelous grace.  Help me to live in a constant state of praise before Your throne as I come to You in Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, December 22, 2014

"God turns the tables on evil … "

Day #360:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 23rd

Scripture Reading:  Esther 6 - 10 …

Evil will not win!  I know it looks like evil is winning sometimes, and I know it feels like evil is winning sometimes, but in the end GOD wins!!  In the end, those who know Jesus Christ have victory over evil in every way imaginable … and then beyond our imagination.  The true story of Esther is a reminder that God is powerful and wise enough to stop evil in its tracks.  We need to know this truth and remember this truth during those times when God DOESN'T stop evil in its tracks, because it's then that we need to live by faith, knowing that God is still at work and if He allows evil to run its course at times, there is a reason that will in some way serve to glorify God and to advance His kingdom.  Faith to believe God and to trust God in spite of what we see, think and feel is what faith is all about.

Esther gives us a picture of God working behind the scenes without ever once mentioning God.  We know that Esther had become queen in Persia by God's design and when the king's right-hand-man, Haman, plotted to kill Mordecai, Esther's uncle, because he would not bow down to him, and devised a plan to destroy all the Jews throughout the empire, Mordecai had convinced Esther that God had placed her in this position "for such a time as this" (4:14).  So Esther had risked her life to go to the king to make a request and the first part of her request was to have a banquet with just the King and Haman.  The king granted her request and the preparations were being made for the next day.

Chapter 6 describes the events leading up to the banquet, beginning with a seemingly insignificant point:  "That night the king could not sleep …" (6:1).  God was about to show Haman, and through this story generations to follow, that He is able to turn the tables on evil in a moment.  We who know Esther's God, the only true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, should never be discouraged or overwhelmed because nothing is impossible with God!!  Because the king could not sleep, he ordered some of the chronicles of his reign to be brought to him and he began to read through some of the events of his reign thus far.  As he read he found the record of Mordecai warning the king of a plot on his life.  He had, quite literally, saved the king's life.  So the king asked what had been done for Mordecai and when he was told, "Nothing,"  he called for Haman.

This account would be humorous except for what hung in the balance … the lives of the Jews throughout the empire!!  The king asked Haman, "What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?" (6:6).  Of course, Haman thought the king was talking about him, so he designed this lavish display … the king's robe, the king's horse, a crown, being led through town in honor by one of the king's princes.  He made the reward spectacular and memorable.  Then the king said, "Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king's gate" (6:10).  Picture it:  Mordecai, who had refused to bow before Haman … Mordecai, whom Haman hated so much that he had devised this plan to exterminate ALL the Jews because of his hatred for Mordecai … this Mordecai was now being led through the city by HAMAN, with the robe of the king, the horse of the king and a crown making him the man the king honored.

Haman was so ashamed and so distraught that when the whole spectacle was over he rushed home and covered his head in grief.  His advisers and his wife warned him that Mordecai was going to be his downfall, and at that moment there was a knock on the door as the king's servants came to escort Haman to the banquet with the king and Queen Esther.  Haman was having a bad day and it was about to get worse.  The king asked Esther what her request was and she said simply:  "Grant me my life - this is my petition.  And spare my people - this is my request.  For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation" (7:3-4).  The king was obviously disturbed and asked who had done this, so Esther turned toward Haman and said, "The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman!" (7:6).

Because of his anger and hatred for Mordecai, Haman had built a high gallows that many could see upon which to hang Mordecai.  When this was told to the king, he said, "Hang HIM on it!" (7:9).  And so it was done.  That same day King Xerxes gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman and Esther made Mordecai the overseer of all that had belonged to Haman.  God had turned the tables on the evil that Haman had attempted to do to Mordecai, and now He would also turn the tables on those who were enemies of the Jews throughout the entire empire.  The king gave Mordecai the authority to issue a decree that on the very day when Haman had ordered the Jews to be annihilated, on that day, the Jews were free to avenge themselves against their enemies.

"On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them" (9:1).  The decree was extended to two days and the enemies of the Jews were killed and the Jews experienced a time of peace and joy that had not been theirs since they had been exiled to Babylon.  In memory of the days, the feast of Purim was established, a feast that would be celebrated every year in memory of the events recorded in Esther and God's salvation of His people through Mordecai and the queen.  Pictured in all this is the battle between the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God that continues to this day.

Satan wanted to rid the earth of these people because he knew God's promise that the Savior would come from Judah, the One who would crush his head, destroying his power and his kingdom forever.  Satan knows who Jesus is and why He came.  Satan knows that Jesus will return to establish His kingdom in Jerusalem and so his plots continue against the Jewish people and the nation of Israel and Jerusalem.  During World War II it certainly appeared that evil was winning as six million Jews were killed.  Yet, out of that God brought the establishment of the nation of Israel, one of the last pieces of the puzzle leading to Christ's return in victory.

There is more to come.  Even now the enemies of Israel attempt to exterminate the Jews, and we know who is behind it.  We are told in Revelation that Satan will use the Antichrist to gather the nations against Israel.  Even now in the United Nations such a move is underway.  It is now a political and diplomatic "attack," but it will become more than that in future days.  But as God was in control of the events surrounding Esther and Mordecai and Haman and the Jews, so God is in control over all the events going on in the world today.  God says through the prophet Zechariah, "I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it …" (Zechariah 14:2).  God uses even the evil of Satan himself to accomplish His purposes as He turns the tables and brings victory out of apparent defeat.

Zechariah continues, "Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations" (Zechariah 14:3).  Revelation 19:11-21 describes the result of the battle and the beginning of Jesus' reign over the nations from Jerusalem, the very city and the very people that Satan has been trying to destroy for centuries.  God will turn the tables and Satan and evil will be destroyed forever!!  All this is more than Bible stories, this is truth that you and I need as we live in this world where evil continues to fight against God and His people.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesians 6: "Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:10-12).

Satan is, as some would say, "Alive and well," BUT, we who are born again and empowered by the Spirit of God stand against him by faith.  Peter writes, "Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you KNOW that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (in other words, "you are not alone!") … AND the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will HIMSELF restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To HIM be the power for ever and ever. Amen!" (I Peter 5:8-11).

Where is your strength today?  Where do you go when you get discouraged, when it looks and feels like evil is winning?  Have you put on the armor of God, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the gospel of peace and the helmet of salvation?  Have you taken up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God and have you prepared for battle by spending time in prayer, seeking the Lord and resting in His promises through Jesus Christ?   Apathy and unbelief do not win over evil!  Faith in Jesus Christ accomplishes more through the power of God that any army could ever do.

With Paul we declare, "And we KNOW that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. … If God is for us, who can be against us?!" (Romans 8:28,31).  May you live with faith in Christ, confident that God is able to turn the tables on evil, and if, at the moment, He chooses not to do so, there is a good reason.  He will give you strength to endure and to persevere, and in the end, VICTORY IN JESUS will be yours!!

"Heavenly Father, to You I come for wisdom and for strength, confessing that when the attacks of Satan come against me and evil appears to have the upper hand, I need You to strengthen me that I may stand by faith.  By Your power at work within me, I trust in You, my God, my King, my Savior, my Redeemer and I commit myself to taking up the sword of the Spirit to defeat my enemies and to experience victory each day as I live with You and for You.  Use me, Father, to encourage others as we engage in the battles of this life, knowing that the kingdom and the power and the glory are YOURS!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"The God of Israel IS God!"

Day #359:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 22nd

Scripture Reading:  Deuteronomy 32 - 34 ...

Since there is only one God who created all things, there can be only one true God!  That God is the God of Israel.  I'm sure I would get some arguments from others, but it really doesn't matter.  History confirms that the God of Israel IS God ... the ONLY God, our Creator.  You might think that people would want to get all the facts before deciding what "god" to believe in, or if they should believe at all. A growing number of people have decided, on the basis of much false information, that the universe formed by accident and that mankind is the result of some strange twist of fate.  That means we are nothing special, that earth is nothing special, that there is no purpose in life, that you can do whatever you want, that neither life nor death have any real meaning.  That's just the way it is ... if you choose to believe there is no GOD, no Creator.

But once you realize the absurdity of that position, the question becomes who IS God?  Let me narrow it down:  there are only THREE "religions" in the world that believe there is ONE God and that He is the Creator ... they are Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  I list them in that order because that is the order in which they came into existence.  Since Darwin's foolish attempt to explain the origin of mankind through evolution in the mid-1800's, mankind has been on a quest to determine our own fate.  Thus the expeditions into space and the science experiments like the "super-collider," which attempt to re-create the moment when life came into existence.  Are you following me thus far?  When you refuse to accept the truth, you become desperate to prove some other theory, no matter how absurd it might be.

When I say history confirms that the God of Israel is the one true God, it is really pretty simple.  As I said, there can only be one Creator.  HISTORY tells us that the first civilizations are approximately 5500 years old ... that's right ... not a billion or a million years old, but five thousand, five hundred years.  Check it out!  There is no recorded history before that time.  I remember listening to someone ask a very simple question about our origins and when dinosaurs existed.  People seem to be very curious about dinosaurs.  The answer that was given by a creation scientist was so simple that even children could understand it.  Pictures of dinosaurs discovered in caves from the Chinese dynasties match skeletons and re-creations of dinosaurs.  Presumably the pictures were drawn by PEOPLE, so how did they know what dinosaurs looked like?  They must have lived at the same time!!  And that's precisely what the Bible, the book that also tells us where we came from, says.

So what does this have to do with Deuteronomy and Israel and Moses?  With our reading today we come to the end of the "Pentateuch" (five books), the "Book of the Law," the books of Moses.  In these five books you find the history of mankind from creation up until approximately 1400 B.C. - some 3400 years ago.  These books lead to one conclusion:  the God who created the world and who destroyed all of mankind except for Noah and his family in a global flood (there's more evidence of a global flood than you could possibly imagine), is the God who after the flood revealed Himself to a man named Abram (father of a nation), whose name was later changed to Abraham (father of nations).  Virtually every ancient culture had its "flood story."  ("Ancient" meaning more than 2500 years ago).  Why?  Because all the people on earth descended from Noah and his three sons and their wives!

Here's another interesting point:  of the three religions that teach that there is but one God, ALL three trace their heritage back to Abraham:  Jews, Christians and Muslims.  So how do we pick which one is right?  History.  Genesis explains that God made His covenant with Abraham and then passed His promises down to Isaac and then to Jacob.  Ishmael, from whom the Arab nations descended, was the son of Abraham through Sarah's servant, Hagar.  God's covenant was not made with Ishmael, but with Isaac.  The nation of Israel came from Jacob's twelve sons.  God had promised Abraham that He would make a great nation from his descendants - through Isaac and then Jacob.  So when Moses writes in Chapter 32, verse 9:  "The LORD's portion is His people, Jacob His allotted inheritance," that is a significant piece of history.

You must also realize that ISLAM did not exist until more that 2700 years AFTER God made His promises to Abraham.  The self-proclaimed prophet, Mohammed, started this religion only 1400 years ago, while God made His promises to Abraham more than 4,000 years ago!!!  In the meantime, the Old Testament records God's dealing with Israel and His promise to send a Savior through the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah.  JESUS, then, is the promised "Seed" of Abraham, which is why the New Testament begins by saying in Matthew 1:  "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:  Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers ... " - all the way to verse 16:  "... and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born JESUS, who is called the Christ."

CHRISTIANITY is the FULFILLMENT of true biblical Judaism!!!!  So of the three religions that teach there is only one God, TWO of them are the same religion (though some of the Jews do not yet acknowledge that Jesus IS the Christ ... many - a growing number, do!).  And Islam came some 2700-2800 years LATER (more than 600 years after Jesus, the Christ, was on the earth!).  Who are you going to believe?  WHAT are you going to believe?  That makes Christianity the ONLY true religion and the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the only true God!  Now you might expect that if the God of Israel is God, that all would go well with Israel, and God DID bless them in amazing ways - in spite of their rebellion and idolatry.  You see, ALL men are sinners who deserve God's judgment.  That's why God promised to send a Savior who would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15) ... a Savior who would make "atonement" ("payment") for our sins.

Islam knows nothing of such a payment.  Judaism, through its sacrifices and ceremonies, first at the tabernacle and then at the temple, pointed to the need for the perfect sacrifice, the perfect atonement to be made.  God told Moses to write a song that would chastise the people of Israel and point out their stubbornness and their sin and point them to the coming Savior.  God had predicted their rebellion, for He knows the heart of man.  "They are a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them.  If only they were wise and would understand and discern what their end will be" (32:28-29).  God says, "There is no god besides Me.  I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of My hand" (32:39).

Yet listen to these words of hope:  "Rejoice, O nations, with His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants; He will take vengeance on His enemies and make atonement for His land and people" (32:43).  And the rest of the Bible is God's story of redemption for those who are His, whom He has chosen from Israel and from the nations ... the remnant, His elect, His chosen ones.  The last written words of Moses are found in 33:28-29:  "So Israel will live in safety alone; Jacob's spring is secure in a land of grain and new wine, where the heavens drop dew.  Blessed are you, O Israel!  Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD?  He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword." 

Then God told Moses to climb Mount Nebo and to look over the land that He was giving to Israel.  God said, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.'" (34:4).  Moses was gathered to his fathers and in reality went to a better promised land - into the spiritual realm.  We see Moses appear with Elijah on the mountaintop as Jesus is "transfigured" before some of His disciples.  What many consider to be only "Bible stories," bring together history and science and religion because all of these are joined together by one thing, one truth, one person ... the One true God ... ISRAEL's God.

The rest of the Bible is also HIS-story!  He has saved a remnant from the physical descendants of Israel through faith in the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus, and He is in the process of saving a remnant from all the nations through faith in the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus.  Jesus said, "I will build My Church," and the word for "church" is "ekklesia," literally, "called-out ones."  We who believe have been called by the one true God and united with those who believe from the Jews into one body.  And our God IS Israel's God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  HE is God ... there is no other!!

Believe in Him today.  Read His Word.  Consider these things and be amazed at the unity of history and all that the Bible teaches.  Pray for wisdom and the Spirit of God will give it to you.  Jesus Christ, the One descended from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah, through the line of David, has fulfilled the numerous prophecies given over hundreds, even thousands of years, and He IS the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  He came to earth to go to the cross, to BE the perfect sacrifice, "to make atonement for His land and His people" (32:43).  Trust in Him today, believe what you find in the Word of this one true God, written by His messengers, and discover the love, mercy and grace of the God to whom we are all accountable.  Jesus IS the Way and the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through faith in Him.  Believe in Him today and His Spirit will confirm to your spirit that the God of Israel IS God!!

"O Lord my God, I believe and confess that YOU alone are God; there is no other.  I thank You for revealing Yourself through Your Word and in Your Son Jesus Christ.  I praise You for opening my eyes and my heart by Your Spirit so that I may know You and love You and serve You, finding meaning and purpose in life ... and in death!  To You I give my praise ... to You I give my life ... in the name that is above every name ... in the name of Jesus, Amen"

Saturday, December 20, 2014

"O God, we need You!!!"

Day #358 - Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 21st

Scripture Reading:  Jude ... 

Some would say that the Church was in its "infancy" when Jude and the other apostles wrote the letters of the New Testament.  Without question, it was a time like no other in the history of the world.  So many prophecies from the Old Testament Scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah.  And now, following His resurrection and ascension, Jesus had fulfilled another promise:  the pouring out of God's Spirit into the hearts of Jews and Gentiles alike.  Not only had God kept His promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation, but now He was fulfilling His promise that in His "Seed"  all nations on earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).  Jesus was now building His Church through the proclamation of the Gospel and the work of His Spirit.

The apostles clearly understood this fact as they addressed their letters.  Jude begins, "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, to those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ:  Mercy, peace and love by yours in abundance" (verses 1-2).  Remember that these words were written during the first few decades following Christ's death and resurrection.  Persecution against those who believed in Jesus was intense and false teachers were already leading many astray, trying to make a profit by pretending to be disciples of Jesus, promising people eternal life and miracles in exchange for worldly possessions (not unlike today!).  Jude says that he was eager to write to his brothers and sisters in Christ "about the salvation we share" ... who wouldn't rather talk about the power of the Spirit and the Word to transform lives and to make us new creations in Christ?!  But there was something else on his heart ...

I can identify with Jude.  As a pastor I would love to talk only about "positive" things and rejoice in the grace and love and mercy God has shown us in Christ.  We need to do that, we must do that, to encourage one another and to build one another up in our devotion to Christ and to call one another to a deeper commitment to His Body.  At the same time, like Jude, there is an urgent need "to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (verse 3).  He points out to the believers that false teachers have slipped in among them and are already leading many astray.  That is even more true today than it was then.  His description of them is fitting:  "They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign Lord" (verse 4).

You might think that false teachers would be obvious, but they're not ... at least not always.  These men (and women) talk about Jesus, claim to believe in Jesus and even use verses from God's Word to deceive people into believing that they are disciples of Jesus.  Sadly, even "Christian" television is filled with those who fit Jude's description.  They do not talk about sin and its consequences, or about the need for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness.  There is hardly a mention of the cross and what Jesus did there.  Instead, they declare that Jesus loves everybody, no matter what, and that the worst problem people have is not knowing God loves them.  They "sell" miracles and salvation to those who are gullible enough to "sow a seed" into THE(IR) kingdom.  They leave people in their sin and call it "grace."

Where the true Gospel is preached the Holy Spirit convicts the heart and mind of the need for a Savior, for one to pay the penalty for sin in our place, and points always to Jesus Christ, the only Mediator, our Redeemer, our Savior and Lord.  How sadly pathetic these false teachers are in their vain attempts to make a name for themselves, all the while claiming to love Jesus so much.  God will be their Judge.  Jude explains in verses 5-7 that God knows how to judge the ungodly and that false teachers will not escape His just judgment.  I would not want to be in their place on that day when they meet Jesus face to face!  "They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire" (verse 7).  Of course, many of them deny that such a thing even exists!

As Jude explains in verse 11, they are like Cain, Balaam and Korah, who all rebelled against God and whose hearts were focused on themselves.  "These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm - shepherds who feed only themselves" (verse 12).  We must pray for discernment today, for such "teachers" are numerous in the church.  These supposed teachers take advantage of the widespread biblical illiteracy plaguing the church in our modern world where most people in churches take no time to read and study God's Word and so remain vulnerable to every wind of doctrine.  In fact, these teachers tell people not to get caught up in "doctrine," which means "teaching."  While the Spirit gives us understanding, they teach people to ignore Scripture and just "listen to the Spirit."  Beware of those who ignore the inspired Word of God which alone is able to bring to maturity those who are true disciples of Jesus.

These false teachers throw stones at those who proclaim the true Gospel and who stick to God's Word to discover the truth that sets people free!  "These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage" (verse 16).  I am often amazed that people are so unaware of false teachers, but apart from knowledge of God's truth, the truth that is found only in His Word, people are easily deceived.  As Peter warned his readers of the "scoffers" who would come, so Jude does the same (verse 18).  "These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit" (verse 19).  They rob God of His glory by their boasting about "their" church and all that "they" are doing for God.

"But YOU, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.  Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life" (verses 20-21).  You see, God's grace brings salvation, from beginning to end.  Those who are true believers know that they have been "called" by the Spirit, "loved by God the Father" and are "kept by Jesus Christ" (verse 1).  I didn't choose Jesus, He chose ME, gave me His Spirit, by whose power I was born again, confessed my sin, repented, believed in Jesus and am saved.  HE receives ALL the glory ... I receive NONE!  If that describes you, then you are one of Jesus' sheep and you will heed His warning to watch out for false teachers.  You will never stop confessing your need for God to continue the work He has begun in you.  You will never rely on yourself or your own power, but always on the One who lives within You by His Spirit.  You will feed on God's Word because you know that you need to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ in order to mature and to be equipped to lead others to Christ for forgiveness and life.

And you who are so called, who have received God's mercy, peace and love in abundance, will continually rejoice in the truth with which Jude concludes his brief letter:  "To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen" (verses 24-25).  Not to me, O Lord, not to me, but unto YOU be glory!!

"My Father in heaven, I am not ashamed to declare that I need You, oh, how I need YOU!  You have shown me mercy, peace and love through the gift of Your Son, and by the power of Your Spirit alone You have made me alive!!  Give me grace each day to find all the wisdom I need in Your Word and help me to discern those who are false teachers, who have slipped in among Your people today.  To You, Father, I commit my heart, my mind, my soul, my life, giving You the praise and thanks for my salvation, trusting that You will complete what You have begun.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, December 19, 2014

"The Gospel … a light to the Jews and the Gentiles … "

Day #357:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 20th

Scripture Reading:  Acts 25 - 26 …

What must it be like to be on trial for preaching the Gospel?  Perhaps one day I will know … but in some ways every true believer, every disciple of Jesus faces the trial of public opinion … or should!  If you are "preaching Christ" as you live your daily life, pointing people to Jesus for forgiveness, calling them to repentance, letting your light shine, you will inevitably face some opposition.  You will be "judged" as guilty of "judging" others, and though you confess that you, too, are a sinner, and testify to God's grace toward you, people will accuse you of thinking you are better than they are and will hate you for what … for whom you represent!!  If you aren't, in some way, being put on trial for "preaching Christ," why not?!

Paul had faced what we might say was more than his share of suffering for preaching the Gospel.  He had been beaten, put in jail and treated horribly ever since he believed in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, and began preaching the Gospel.  It had been more than two years now since Felix, the governor of Caesarea, had placed Paul in jail, not because he found him guilty of anything, but to pacify the Jews who wanted to stop Paul from preaching the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus.  Now Festus had replaced Felix and the Jews saw an opportunity to kill Paul, so they asked Festus to transfer him to Jerusalem, hoping to ambush him along the way.  Paul, however, appealed to Caesar, so Festus ordered that he be sent to Rome.

Before he was transferred there, however, King Agrippa and his wife arrived in Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus.  As God ordained it, Festus shared the details of Paul's case with Agrippa.  His explanation is classic!  After listening to the Jews' accusations and Paul's testimony, this is what Festus had come away with:  "When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected.  Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive" (25:18-19).  How is that for a summary of the conflict between the Jewish leaders who had rejected Jesus and Paul, who had come to believe in Him?  Truer words have never been spoken!!  It's about "a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive!"

If Jesus is alive, then the Gospel is true; if He is dead then Christianity itself is a cruel hoax.  Many in the church today talk about Jesus as though He was dead!  They talk about Him and what He did, but forget that He is alive today and that He is coming again to judge the living and the dead and to establish His eternal kingdom in a new heaven and a new earth.  Before that He will reign over the nations of the earth for a thousand years, defeating the Antichrist and all His enemies, and executing God's judgment on all who have not believed in Him.  The world today lies in the darkness of spiritual death, unwilling and unable to see the light of the glory of Christ in the Gospel.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Corinthians 4:4-6).  Jesus is the light of the world because the path to eternal life is faith in HIM … believing that He died for our sins and paid our penalty and rose again and ascended into heaven!  Festus was right when he said that the issue was that the Jews said Jesus was dead and Paul testified that He was ALIVE!!

Are you living as though Jesus is alive?  Or like so many, are you living as though Jesus was no different than other religious leaders who have come and gone and left behind some rules to follow?  Is "Christianity" just a religion to you, or is it a relationship with the living God through faith in Jesus and the empowering presence of His Spirit within you?  The difference is like day and night, light and darkness, life and death!!  Paul had been testifying to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the region and now GOD (not Festus) was sending him to Rome.  But before he went, he needed to testify to King Agrippa.

Like Festus, and Felix before him, these political leaders cared more about pleasing the Jews and others under them than about truth … especially "religious" truth.  After all, what does religion have to do with politics?  Sounds familiar, doesn't it??  But Paul did not miss an opportunity to share the Gospel and to call anyone, even kings and rulers, to repentance and faith in Jesus.  Perhaps that's why Paul would write to Timothy, amidst the persecution of those days, "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (I Timothy 2:1-2).  As Christians it should not be our goal to stir up trouble unnecessarily, but to be a light in the darkness to all we meet and to use every opportunity to speak of Jesus.

As he stood before Agrippa, Paul declared his innocence of any wrongdoing, but said, "it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today" (26:6).  As a Pharisee, Paul knew the Old Testament scriptures well, but he had missed the truth that the Messiah would be the "suffering servant" of Isaiah 53.  His eyes had been opened and now he used the Old Testament to support his claim that Jesus was, in fact, the promised Messiah, who came to suffer for the sins of His people and to redeem them from the coming judgment of God.  Paul knew that he was a sinner, saved by grace, and he wanted to tell everyone the good news!

He explained his conversion on the road to Damascus and recounted what Jesus had told him:  "I am sending you to them (the Gentiles) to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me" (26:17-18).  The message of the Gospel is clear.  Faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, for forgiveness, for life.  There is no other way to be saved.  It is impossible to read through the book of Acts and come to any other conclusion.  The Gospel is the same for Jews as it is for Gentiles:  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).

Paul again appealed to the Scriptures of the Old Testament as he made his defense before King Agrippa and Festus:  "I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen - that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to His own people (the Jews) and to the Gentiles" (26:22-23).  Some years ago I wrote a book entitled, "Judaic Christianity - the One True Religion," pointing out from numerous Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments that Christianity is the fulfillment of true biblical Judaism.  People today who believe these are two different religions have utterly and totally missed the truth revealed in the Bible, God's own testimony concerning Jesus, the Christ, the promised Messiah.  Doing so leaves people without the necessary foundation to proclaim the Gospel, the good news of salvation.

No other religion, be it Judaism, Islam or any other declares the truth concerning the one way of salvation through faith in Jesus, the Christ.  That's why Peter, himself a Jew, answered the way he did when Jesus asked, "Who do you say I am?"  Led by the Holy Spirit, Peter responded, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!" (Matthew 16:16).  Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven" (16:17).  On the rock of Peter's confession (not Peter!), Jesus said He would build His Church, "and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (16:18).

We who believe today are part of Jesus' promise to build His Church; Jews and Gentiles brought together through the one message that has the power to save.  As Paul wrote to the Romans, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Romans 1:16).  When Paul referred to the Scriptures, Festus responded the way blind people do today:  "You are out of your mind, Paul!  Your great learning is driving you insane" (26:24).  So it may seem to those who are spiritually dead, but the Gospel brings light to those whose hearts and minds God opens by His Spirit.

King Agrippa's response was also sadly typical of many today:  "Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?" (26:28).  Paul replied, "Short time or long - I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains" (26:29).  Such must be our heart's desire today, moving us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ at every opportunity, for without the Gospel, without the Spirit, there can be and will be no repentance, no faith and no life in Jesus.

In the words of Isaiah, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. … 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 9:2,6).  May this message be on our lips as we live in this world, testifying to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, that He is alive, and that through faith in Him there is forgiveness and life.  This message, and this message alone, is the Gospel … a light to the Jews and the Gentiles … bringing salvation to all who believe!

"O Lord our God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, our Father in heaven through Jesus, the Christ, to YOU and You alone I come, trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and life.  I believe that Jesus IS the Christ, the fulfillment of Your promises to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to all whom You have chosen to be Yours.  I believe that in Christ I find all I need and I live now to testify to the truth of who He is and what He has done, pointing people to what is yet to come when He returns.  Use me, Father, to be a light to all I meet, pointing them to Jesus, calling them to repent and believe and be saved.  Thank You, Father, for calling ME to be yours!  In Jesus' name, Amen"