Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year 2017!

2017 Anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi ("in the year of Our Lord Jesus Christ")

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Prophetic Hope Fulfilled

Luke 1:17 “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared”.

Here is a neat little Bible tidbit that is really helpful in understanding biblical prophecy.  If one reads through the entire Old Testament, one cannot help but walk away feeling that it is incomplete, that there is an ending that is yet to be told. We are left thinking that more is to come, and this is in large measure attributable to the prophets.

Every prophet has a future orientation that expresses confidence in God’s plans for His people no matter if the prophet spoke first to Israel, Judah, or the nations; lived before, during, or after the exile; or wrote in narrative, poetic, or apocalyptic style. Here is a basic outline: Amos directs us to the restoration of the Davidic monarchy. Hosea looks for the full reconciliation of Yahweh and His bride, Israel, never to be separated again. Isaiah envisions a new heavens and earth brought about by the suffering but triumphant Davidic king. Joel foresees an outpouring of the Holy Spirit surpassing anything seen before. Obadiah, Nahum, and Jonah warn the nations that those who oppose God’s people will finally be destroyed but offer hope that anyone can become Abraham’s child by trusting in Yahweh. Micah anticipates the people’s cleansing so that they can do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Habakkuk assures the remnant that its trust in the Lord alone will be vindicated. Jeremiah predicts a new covenant more glorious than the old, and in Lamentations he mourns for Jerusalem while hoping that God had not finally cut off His people. Ezekiel proclaims the return of pure worship after the exile. Daniel explains that after Judah’s extended exile, the Lord will finally judge the living and the dead, and reward them accordingly. Haggai and Zechariah encourage the people to look past their post-exilic suffering to the glory of the coming temple, calling them to repent for rejecting God. Finally, Zephaniah and Malachi tell us of the final day of the Lord when all the aforementioned predictions will be consummated.

This day could not come until Elijah ministered to God’s people again (Malachi 4:5–6). John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was this Elijah—not the literal return of the prophet but one who came in his spirit and power. This second Elijah proclaimed the coming David—not the literal David himself but His greatest Son – the Messiah. Turning the hearts of God’s people in first-century-AD Palestine back to Him, John paved the way for the Davidic king Jesus Christ. John the Baptist was the last prophet of the old covenant even though his story is told in what we commonly call the New Testament. Jesus tells us that John was the greatest prophet of the old covenant, but greater still is the least one who has seen the inauguration of the kingdom (Matthew 11:11). Our Savior is the Davidic king and fulfillment of the prophets. We must trust Him to bring all the prophetic promises to pass, for He will surely do it. It’s been a sure plan of God’s from the beginning and the Prophetic hope fulfilled for us all. God with us; our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Your Best Days are Ahead of You – Part 2 – New Creation

Continuing Michael’s New Year’s message, he writes: How do you know a Christian?  God did not call us to be judges, rather he called us to be fruit inspectors ... Jesus said, by their fruit ye shall know them. Look for their good fruit. When we keep score of our own shortcomings and judge ourselves unworthy, we must approach the cross of Christ. The Adversary is the accuser, the devil. He will remind us how far short of God's righteousness we have fallen and of our great debt of sin. However, Jesus paid the price for our sins at the cross of Calvary. He who was without sin became the sinless sin sacrifice on our behalf, that we might be made the righteousness of God in HimJesus Christ who knew no sin, for the joy that was set before Him endured the pain and shame of death on the cross.  Because of His love of God's people, Jesus did not impute their trespasses unto them, but became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Jesus, who was the sinless sacrificial lamb, became the perfect sin sacrifice on our behalf to make us worthy ... to balance the scales of God's righteous judgment.

Our best days are ahead. Therefore forsake your trophies and your failures. The things of this world are fleeting ... this too shall pass ... that which is seen is temporal but that which is unseen is eternalIf any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, old things are passed away, all things have become new. He has reconciled us unto himself and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we now have peace with God, having been reconciled back to God through the price paid by Jesus Christ on our  behalf. Our country values freedom.  However, freedom isn't free. Some say that freedom is priceless ... it's price is far above the price of diamonds and gold. The price of freedom from sin was paid for by the precious and priceless blood of the Lamb of God, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Focusing on the problem of sin and dwelling on debt and transgression digs us deeper into the hole of condemnation. Jesus Christ is the solution to the problem of sin.  Therefore look not on the things of the world. For what the commandments could not do in that they were weak through the flesh, God sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin condemned sin in the flesh that we may be made the righteousness of God in him. Our father has called us to his mercy, grace, and peace through the supreme payment of the sinless sacrifice of the innocent blood of his son Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”

Morning has broken, like the first morning ... God's re-creation on the new day.  Our best days are yet before us.

May God richly bless you in 2017.
Your brother in Christ, Michael

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Your Best Days are Ahead of You – Part 1 - Success

This week Michael writes that for many of us this statement is not hard to believe as we look back upon the tribulation of the past year. The world teaches that the key to having pleasant surprises in the new year is to begin with low expectations. When we operate in our strengths, this reveals our weaknesses to others. When we're on a team, the team sees our weaknesses. Sometimes the team will tell you that you need a sabbatical. We often need to draw away from the world and back into the presence of God. Renewal is required to repent, to turn around and to begin with a clean slate with a new identity in Christ. A new year allows us to forget that which lies behind and to stretch toward that which lies aheadTherefore I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

A new year gives us a clean slate to walk in the newness of life. It's easy to take stock of the year in retrospect and to understand where we have fallen short as spouses, parents, grandparents, workers, business peers, and stewards of that with which God  has entrusted us.  However, the new year gives us an opportunity to forsake the shortcomings that are behind in the old year. What is the priority in the new year? Paul, who had impeccable worldly credentials, said that all my degrees, all my worldly training, all my awards and accolades I count but garbage to serve Christ. In Philippians 3:8 he writes, "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ."

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, old things are passed away, all things have become new." For the best days ahead of us, we need to start with the basics.  We have to turn back to God and remind ourselves of basic truths.  James 2 is about these fundamentals. He brought us into the world, each with a specific purpose. This is the essence of sanctification: to be set apart for God's specific purpose ... His portion, His providence, His allotment for our lives. Faith without works is dead ... For we are His masterpiece, His poem, His great work created in Christ Jesus unto good works which he hath before ordained that we should walk in it. The understanding of God's purpose starts with knowing the price that Jesus Christ paid  on our behalf as the perfect sinless sacrifice for our sins ... for our  having missed the mark of God's righteousness.

A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.  James 3 says that both blessing and cursing come from the same tongue. To whom do you pledge allegiance? For whom do you strive? Whom do you choose to serve? We must come to the realization that in climbing the ladder of worldly success, the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall. The secret of an abundant and blessed life is to have low expectations of ourselves and high expectations of our life in Christ. If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature.
Let’s continues Michael’s New Year’s message on the next post.

In Christ, Brian

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Sum of God’s Commandments

Romans 13:8–9 “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

Having just celebrated the birth of our Messiah, the Anointed One, Christ the Redeemer, we are now heading into 2017, we may ask: “Why did our Heavenly Father God send his Son Jesus into the world?” Because, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, not having rendered to Him the perfect obedience He demands from His creatures.” Therefore, the only way we can have peace with our Creator is by the righteousness of another—Christ, whose obedience is imputed to us when we trust only in Him for salvation. Do we truly understand the magnitude  and severity of our situation? Our salvation from hell-fire and damnation is enough to celebrate with praise, honor, glory, and adoration to our Almighty Maker. Yet God does not only justify us, or declare us reconciled and righteous in His sight. He also regenerates our heart and changes us from the inside out, then we pursue holiness not in order to secure a right standing with the Lord, but to thank Him for the right standing He has granted us by grace alone. He purposed to give us this right standing by electing us in Christ before the foundation of the world. The outworking of all this is seen in continual transformation by the renewing of our minds and the Lord’s process of Sanctification, which produces sincere love in our hearts toward others.

One commentary on Romans 13:8-9 explains that Paul emphasizes this idea of obligation when he commands us to “owe no one anything, except to love each other”. He does not mean that Christians are not allowed to go into any kind of financial debt; rather, the point is that the only perpetual obligation that believers have is to love one another. In other words, there is one debt that believers will be repaying from the point of conversion into all eternity, and that is to love the brethren. Without a doubt, the Apostle leans on the words of Jesus Himself, who said love of God and neighbor are the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34–40). Paul does not mention love for the Lord explicitly in this passage; however, Scripture assumes that true love for neighbor manifests itself only when we have true love for our Creator and Savior. Reformer John Calvin comments, “The whole law is fulfilled when we love our neighbors; for true love towards man does not flow except from the love of God, and it is its evidence, and as it were its effects.”

 Notice that Paul in Romans 13:9, which speaks of love as the fulfillment of the moral law, specifically the Ten Commandments. True, biblical love has objective moral content. We cannot justify actions merely because they feel loving. Instead, godly love conforms to the Lord’s standards. It does what pleases Him. The key point is that as disciples of Christ, we must define love by what the Lord has revealed and not by what happens to feel right to us at the moment. This side of heaven, our fleshly heart’s desires can deceive us, but God’s Word teaches us only the truth. Our desires must align with God’s desires. As we consider our love for others, a desire to act in conformity to the commands of the Lord will show us that what we are experiencing is the godly kind of love that the Lord demands. Is such love evident in your and my heart? That is my New Year’s resolution.

In Christ, Brian

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas: Christ is Born

Here is Michael’s Christmas message to us all: Jesus was born into a dark world that did not understand or welcome him.  He was born behind enemy lines, for we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness from on high. Jesus came to bring a sword against the powers of darkness.  Light always defeats darkness. Jesus came to bring the light of the gospel of good news:  unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.  He also came to bring bad news to the powers of darkness for the thief cometh not but to steal kill and destroy.  However, Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.

Many religions are not secure in their faith. They are so insecure that they believe that they have to kill those who disagree with their theology. However, Jesus said, "when someone (motivated by evil intent) slaps you on the cheek, turn the other cheek."  In other words, "be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good." Even our culture will coerce us to compromise our Christian values. The secular business world expects us to steal, cheat, and take advantage of others in the name of the "profit motive."

The question about the advent of our Lord is, "Is there room at the inn” inside your heart? Does Jesus Christ fit the bill as your Savior, your Messiah?  The Light came into the world and the world did not receive it because their deeds were evil.  If there is no God, then those living in the darkness of sin are not accountable to Him.  However, if there is a God, we have a choice to live according to the light of His righteous standard. Apologetic Philosopher Blaise Pascal gave us his famous wager: “God is, or God is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives. A Game is being played ... where heads or tails will turn up. You must wager (it is not optional). Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

There are four categories of people: the first is those who reject the gospel outright.  The second is those who think they deserve righteousness because of their good deeds. A third category is those who hear the gospel of salvation and make a "profession of faith."  However, they do not know how to deal with their sin. No one is in the dark so deep as those who think they are in the light, but they are really in the dark.  These people say, "Lord, we cast out devils and prophesied in your name."  However, Jesus said, "I never knew you."  These are those who think they're saved, but they are really not. Category four is those who know whom they have believed and are persuaded that He is able to keep that which He's committed to them against that day of righteous judgment. These are those who have been saved by grace and have committed to follow their Lord Jesus Christ with reckless abandon and absolute trust. 

We have been called as "men and women of God."  A man or woman of God is one who has made Jesus Lord of their life.  The world is a world of paradoxes. We must die to self in order to live to Him. We are no longer clothed in the filthy rags of our sin nature. When we confess Jesus as Lord and ask Him to forgive us our sins, He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We are now clothed in his righteous robes. What is it worth to you to walk in fellowship with Him?  Is our walk with Him contingent on the things of this world:  riches, accolades, praise of men and women, and worldly accomplishments?  Our sacred responsibility is our response to His ability.  

As we consider practicing the presence of the Lord, we have three things to remember:  We are faith-based, Christ-centered, and Grace-driven. We may not understand the destination; however we trust that He knows. Our responsibility is to trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. He said take my yoke upon thee, for my burden is easy and my burden is light. We need rest, not from this world, but rather rest for our souls. Jesus said, "come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."  Brethren what shall we do?  What offering shall I bring to my Lord and King?  He expects nothing of us except our hearts, our lives, and our all. A merry Christmas every day is the Christmas present given from God our Heavenly Father. The Greatest Christmas present is the presence of God in Christ in you the hope of glory. Practicing the presence of God is the gift that keeps on giving.  Therefore, we fellowship with likeminded men and women, whose heart's desire is to "choke in the dust" of those in hot pursuit of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; those whose pursuit is to press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  The true meaning of Christmas is "Christ’s mass"...  More of Christ and less of me.  I must decrease that He may increase.

Merry Christmas and May God richly bless you!
Your brother in Christ, Michael

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas

Blessings to you and yours

Friday, December 23, 2016

Defenders of the Faith

1 Peter 3:15 “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

We can learn so much from the courage and boldness of the early defenders of the faith. Here is a little piece of a lesson that I came across. In a day of "political correctness:, the concept of Christian Soldiers can easily get lost in the notion of making friends instead of saving souls. The second century of church history began with the church working to gain its footing and deal with the hostile Roman Empire, and that helps explain why many of the earliest post-Apostolic Christians lack theological depth—people were focused on surviving. Notable exceptions exist. First Clement, a letter written by an elder in Rome around the year AD 100, and the Epistle to Diognetus, an anonymous text written as early as 130, both anticipate the fully worked-out doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

In the main, the notable figures of the immediate post-Apostolic period were the second- century apologists—defenders of the faith. The most significant of the apologists was Justin Martyr, so named because he was martyred during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Justin’s defense of the faith was typical of the apologists of the time. To the Jews, he stressed how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. He confronted pagans, proclaiming the rationality of Christian belief and the sound ethics of the Christian religion, and he mocked idolatry in a manner reminiscent of the old covenant prophets. In many ways, apologists like Justin model how we should defend the faith today in their stress on the reasonableness of Christianity, and in looking to Scripture to define Jesus’ identity.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

 With Irenaeus (130–200 AD) we have the first great theologian of the post-Apostolic period. Irenaeus, who in his youth knew Polycarp, is best known for his work “Against Heresies”, in which he confronts the early church heresy known as Gnosticism. Various beliefs fall under the umbrella of Gnosticism, but the core of the heresy was that the material world is bad, that the God described in the Old Testament is not the God and Father of Jesus Christ, and that salvation is obtained not by atonement but by means of “secret knowledge.” Gnostics said that this hidden knowledge, or gnosis, consisted in traditions that Jesus gave in secret and that had been passed down in secret in the Gnostic community. Irenaeus fought this heresy by pointing to the fact that if such knowledge had been revealed, it would have been revealed publicly and would have been preserved in the visible church. For Irenaeus, the bishop had the chief responsibility in preserving the gospel message, but his understanding of bishops was not what the later Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions would embrace. At the time, a bishop was essentially a faithful pastor whose main work was teaching. He depended on many associates in ministry to help in his work. Irenaeus’ confrontation of the Gnostic heresy reminds us that Christianity is a public religion. God revealed Himself in Christ to many people and not just to a select few, and there is no secret oral tradition that has been handed down through the ages and is the possession only of select leaders. The New Testament gives us the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, and whatever is not taught therein may not be used as a test of orthodoxy. Defend the faith and save a soul.

Merry Christmas, Christ the Savior is born!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

God’s Wisdom in the Gospel

Romans 16:27 “To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

Jesus Christ was sent that Christmas day to save the world.  I love this one commentary from a few years ago that challenged my thinking on our Savior's gospel. Paul’s concluding doxology in Romans ends with a reminder of the great wisdom of God. After all, it is in the gospel of God presented in this epistle that the Lord reveals the depths of His wisdom and proves that He is the only wise God. All other gods are fools fakes, pretenders to the throne. Even though false gods are fools and unable to fulfill the deepest needs and longings of human beings, we have served them anyway. We have rebelled against the most holy Creator even though creation itself tells us we should honor Him and give Him thanks. In our sin, we seek gods of our own devising, and are turned over to our sin and idolatry. Jew and Gentile alike are guilty of this great sin, and it puts us under the wrath of God.

There is but one solution to the unrighteousness that makes us deserving of judgment,
and that is the righteousness of another,  a sinless substitute. This righteousness is received by faith alone apart from the works of God’s law. Nothing we can do will meet God’s perfect standard, and only the perfect obedience of Jesus, who lived to make us righteous and died to bear the wrath we have merited, preserving the Lord’s justice, can give us peace with our Maker.

In God’s great wisdom, this righteousness and peace are provided for us while we are
still sinners, so that we cannot boast. The legal judgment against us having been satisfied, we receive the Holy Spirit and begin to walk truly, but imperfectly, in the ways of the Lord. Our failures show us that only Christ can rescue us from this body of death and redeem the created order. Thus, we return to Jesus again and again, being reminded that His work alone can avail before the heavenly throne and grant us a secure citizenship in His Father’s kingdom. The fact that so many Jews have rejected the gospel does not negate these realities. Their failure to believe is history repeating itself, and it allows Gentiles to be grafted into the people of Israel so that the Jews, too, will one day return to Christ. Those justified by the only wise God bear holy fruit as they love others, use their gifts to serve the church, obey the authorities, and present themselves to God as living sacrifices. God’s wisdom is to impute to us the perfect righteousness of Christ through faith alone so that we will be at peace with Him, receive His Spirit, and live to please Him because we are grateful for the salvation that He alone provides. This is the gospel and its fruit in our lives.

John 3:16-17 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

Take some time today to reflect on the gospel—the message that Christ lived and died to cover your sins with His righteousness, cleanse you from sin by His blood, and give you peace with God. By faith alone in Christ alone, apart from any good works you might do, you enjoy the benefits of what Jesus has done. This is the gospel of grace, our only hope in life and death, and it reveals the sovereign majesty, holiness, and mercy of the Lord.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

When God Became Man

Hebrews 2:7 “You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.”

We know that Jesus Christ is God's plan of Salvation. Yet, we cannot truly comprehend what it meant for the infinite Creator God to become finite man, even coming “in the likeness of sinful flesh”. Nevertheless, by faith we can, and must, believe it, for “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” 

It's true that the Scriptures have given us a glimpse of the “emptying” that His incarnation (God, in the flesh, with us) required—the setting aside of certain outward aspects of His deity. He had been “so much better than the angels”, but He had to be “made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death and put to death in the flesh”. The eternal Word was God, but it was necessary that “the Word was made flesh” – John 1:14. The world was made by Him, but “the princes of this world . . . crucified the Lord of glory”. Jesus Christ is the only way.

Scripture says that He being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. That is, He was not fearful of losing His deity and, therefore, did not have to cling to His divine nature and attributes as He became man. Thus, He “made himself of no reputation” (emptying Himself of the outward form of God) “and took upon him the form of a servant”. Yet that was only the beginning. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him”. He suffered hell for us, that we might enjoy heaven with Him.

Because He was willing to be so humiliated, He will one day be crowned with glory and honor. “God also hath highly exalted Him … that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”. God incarnate; Immanuel (Hebrew: עִמָּנוּאֵל ‎ meaning, "God with us"; Savior of the world - the reason for the season.

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

O Holy Night

This week Michael writes: Christmas celebrates the birth of the Messiah, the Redeemer, our Savior Jesus Christ ...O Holy Night when Christ was Born!  Christmas ...“old English: Crīstesmæsse, meaning "Christ’s Mass”, more of Christ and less of me.  As John the Baptist said, "I must decrease that he may increase."

In our culture, Christians may have chosen the wrong battles to fight. The secular culture has fought relentlessly against the truth of the Word of God to make popular culture less Christian. When you leave  a church service, you're walking into enemy territory. As men and women of God, our mission by God's power is to "roll up the score" for Jesus Christ on the scoreboard of the spiritual contest. This season of the advent of the Messiah is a perfect time to introduce a secular world to the King of kings, for the government shall be upon his shoulders. Government is of God because God is a God of order. In contrast to God's order, where there is chaos and confusion, there is every evil work.

Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. Peace is the result of reconciliation between God and mankind. Reconciliation was completed by the perfect sacrifice of the Prince of Peace, God's sinless son Jesus Christ on behalf of sinful man. The focus and the fulcrum of history is the story of His story. The Prince of Peace was not born in a palace. Rather, God deliberately chose a lowly feeding trough for Mary to lay her newborn baby, God's only begotten son. The wise men from the East knew of the birth of the Messiah from reading God's message in the stars. Daniel had taught the Babylonians how God had written his word in the heavens. The story of the Magi reveals that God announced to the Gentiles as well as the Judean shepherds that "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder."

Christmas ushered in the season of hope of human redemption. Jesus' mission was to redeem mankind as the sinless sacrifice, the payment for sin by the shedding of innocent blood. As Redeemer, He came to open the eyes of those born blind, to set the prisoners free, to proclaim deliverance to the poor, and to preach the acceptable year of The Lord. The powers of the world were threatened by the advent of the Messiah.  Because Herod feared the "King of the Jews" and the righteous judgment of God, he killed all the boys in his kingdom under the age of two. However, the evil of this world cannot prevail against the righteousness of God ... for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and dominions, against the powers of darkness, against spiritual wickedness from on high.

Today, the power of darkness focuses their opposition against Christianity and the Followers of Christ. Even though "politically correct" local governments often refuse to allow the opening of their public meetings with prayer, the Supreme Court of the United States says that you can in fact invoke the name of God in a meeting of local governments. The definition of "invocation" is to summon the presence of deity ... the first commandment says "thou shalt have no other Gods before me." A local pastor was recently asked to deliver the invocation and a message about leadership at the swearing-in ceremony for new leadership at the City Council of his town. The event planners  gave him a long list of "guidelines" of what he could and could not say. After he explained the meaning of "invocation", they finally agreed to allow him to speak freely. They reached this decision because those who recommended the pastor were well respected by the City Council.  According to the pastor's message, when the crisis comes, those who elected you to the Council will expect that you will make sound decisions in the face of adversity. The opposite of public service is pride. Leadership finds its finest hour when leaders sacrifice their own egos for the good of others ... when they live consistently with their internal code of virtuous values ... when they make unpopular righteous decisions in opposition to the fleeting whims of popular "political correctness." Leadership is to follow in the footsteps of the one who proclaimed, "he that is chiefest among you shall be servant of all." We have been called to a higher calling ... the deeper the darkness, the brighter the light shines. The essence of the message is that God has called leaders not to deliver candles in the darkness, but to be the candle ... let your light so shine among men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven. He has called men and women of God for such a time as this ... not to deliver the message but to be the message.

Despite the tribulation of this world and the opposition of evil men and women, we look forward to Christ's second coming, for He will return as of King of kings and Lord of lords. For now, we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see him face to face, for we shall know him even also as we are known.  What a day of rejoicing that shall be!

May God richly bless you during this Christmas season as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child ... the advent of our Lord and Savior, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. 
O Holy Night when Christ was Born!

Merry Christmas!

Your brother in Christ, Michael 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Instrument of Judgment or Salvation

Jonah 2:1-2 “Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, ‘I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice”

I ran across a different look at a very well-known bible story. Jonah’s story is quite familiar to most Christians, as nearly all of us who have grown up in the church heard it more than once during our days in children’s Sunday school. Strangely, even though I did not grow up in the church, someone told me this story because I knew it well. this particular article stated that despite our familiarity with Jonah’s ministry, however, we must note that there is a common misunderstanding about one major portion of the account. After Jonah was thrown into the sea, God appointed a “great fish” to swallow the prophet, and he remained within the belly of the fish for three days and for three nights (Jonah 1:17).

People tend to see the fish as an instrument of the Lord’s judgment when, in fact, the fish was the very means by which our Creator saved Jonah from certain death. Readers likely interpret the fish as God’s judgment due to Jonah’s words; while in the belly of the fish, he spoke of crying to the Lord “out of the belly of Sheol”. When we read that phrase in context, we see that Jonah spoke not of a fish’s stomach but of the bowels of death itself, Sheol being a common Old Testament term for the grave. Jonah was cast into the sea to save the lives of the sailors en route to Tarshish, but the churning waters were no safe haven for the prophet. When Jonah prayed to God, he referred to the flood surrounding him, the waters closing in to take his life, and seaweed wrapping around his head. In His grace, the Lord rescued Jonah from the pit—the grave - even though the prophet had disobeyed His command to go to Nineveh. then used the fish to deliver Jonah to Nineveh anyway. There are many lessons to learn by this event.

Jonah’s prayer to the Lord from the belly of a fish is remarkable for two reasons. First, it indicates the authenticity of his repentance. The prophet never claims God owes him salvation, and he never attempts to list mitigating circumstances to try to excuse his disobedience. This is true repentance - an acknowledgment of guilt before God with no attempt to explain it away and a turning to the Lord in His heavenly temple as the only hope of forgiveness. Father Mapple in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick captures this in his sermon: “Sinful as he is, Jonah does not weep and wait for direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just. He leaves all his deliverance to God, contenting himself with this, that in spite of all his pains and  pangs, he will still look towards His holy temple.”

Jonah 2:7-9 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

Second, Jonah’s prayer is notable because of its affirmation that salvation belongs to the Lord alone (Jonah 2:7–9). Jonah was utterly helpless in the sea and unable to save himself. So, too, are we powerless to save ourselves from the wrath of our holy God. We bring nothing to the Lord when we come to Him for salvation. Even our faith, the instrument of our justification, is a gift from Him (Ephesians 2:8–10). This is a great truth that we must tell ourselves repeatedly, for otherwise we will certainly forget it. One way we can do this is to consciously look for evidence of God’s grace in the stories recorded in Scripture. God’s grace to Jonah in saving him with the fish reminds us that salvation is all of Him. Amen.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Fountain of Cleansing

Zechariah 13:1 “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness”

I want to share a lesson that I just read "the fountain of cleansing".I hope that it blesses you as much as it did me. The prophet Zechariah seems to teach that before the final defeat of God’s enemies, a large number of ethnic Jews will turn to the Messiah whom they have long rejected. The heartfelt mourning of repentance over the God-man pierced for their sins, however, is not where the Lord’s work will end. As we see in today’s passage, many other benefits will follow. First, there will be a grand cleansing of sin and corruption;  a fountain that will open for “the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”  The Lord is lavishly merciful when He forgives His people. He does not provide a trickle of water but a river that restores life to all those whom it cleanses. God holds nothing back when He shows mercy to sinners and redeems them from guilt and shame. This is true no matter whom the Lord forgives.

John 7:37-39 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. 

As Matthew Henry comments, “There is mercy enough in God, and merit enough in Christ, for the forgiving of the greatest sins and sinners.” We who trust in Jesus today already experience this life-giving water, the Holy Spirit Himself who cleanses us from all transgression. But we will enjoy it even more fully when the full company of God’s elect, Jew and Gentile, finally receive His grace. The fountain of cleansing removes from creation even the slightest hint of sin. God’s cleansing of His people would know no boundaries. Even the worst sins and sinners would enjoy it.

Verses 7–9 of Zechariah 13 point to the striking of “the shepherd” that is somehow
tied to these other events. Since there is no time reference such as “on that day” given, it seems that Zechariah does not see this striking happening alongside the final restoration. It will be necessary to the restoration, but it will not happen at the time of the full renewal of all things. A true shepherd associated with God Himself will suffer, and His sheep will scatter, but the Lord will use that event to purify His remnant, the third of His flock that is left alive when its leader endures pain and agony.

In light of the incarnation and the cross, we know that the true shepherd to whom Zechariah refers is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Struck for the sins of His people, Jesus is tied inseparably to the final restoration, for without His ministry there can be no renewal of creation. In Him there is preserved a remnant that is being tested and purified. We are a part of that remnant by faith alone, and we look forward to our full and final refinement. Jesus is the Fountain of Cleansing.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dead End Streets

Psalm 18:2 “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Last Sunday, Pastor Kyle asked: Have you ever been in one of those places where it gets worse before it gets better? Or, in a place where nothing is really going wrong and you are following God’s plan as a person of faith, but everyone else seems to be doing better than you? That can truly get us discouraged when we compare and see a dead end street that can tempt us to question God and our faith. It’s at these times that we tend to focus on what we do not have, with impatience of God’s promises, even though things are going pretty well. With the Bible, we tend to look through rose-colored glasses, expecting for everything to go well, while actually see obstacles and dead ends of life. When not getting what we want, we might find ourselves asking: Did I not get the right message from God? Is this really going to happen? Why isn’t God coming through on His end of the bargain? We can feel that God is not helping us get to the next phase of our life quite fast enough when nothing materializes … yet. Every day our dream dies a little more.

Romans 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Kyle gave us three things to keep in mind when faith feels like a dead end street. (1) There is always (at least) one thing that causes us to doubt the essential goodness of God’s plan. God’s timing is not our timing. We need to remember that God exists outside of “time” and invented “time” for us. Therefore, God speaks His promises as if it will happen today, but in reality it is all in His timing; not ours. (2) God is present in our fear and pain. God deals equally with us all and wants us to place our fears and pains into His hands. With God being outside of time, as we read God’s Word, we can know the end of the story and trust it. In our life, we do not know what tomorrow brings or how our story will end, except for heaven or hell beyond. (3) When God asks us to do something difficult, it is always for a greater reward. We may not know what our future holds, but we know who holds our future in His hand. Great people of faith throughout history still struggle with God and their faith because we are still in the flesh on this side of eternity.  

Romans 4:1-3 “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Faith that pleases God = Trusting God enough to do what He says. Zero doubt and zero fear are on that side of eternity (in Heaven). On this side of eternity, we need to unconditionally trust God in faith. Doubt worries, but sticks with the Lord; not walks away and disobeys. Our faith is a gift. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.” The Holy Spirit fills our heart and helps us to follow God and gives us the strength to live the life that He calls us to live. Believe in the godly things that God has in store for us. There are no dead end streets when you walk with the Lord. When a door closes, another door opens.

God, I believe. Help me to understand what you have for me.

In Christ, Brian

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Warfare Within

Romans 7:24-25 “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

Existential philosophy prevails the culture, where if you were to say that there was a spiritual war going on within everyone, they would wonder what you were talking about. Living in the moment produces a shortsightedness that forgets yesterday and never looks up to see tomorrow. Trendy distractions surround us and send their alluring call to our flesh and heart desires. When we become “born again”, born from above, born of the Spirit, we entered a spiritual battle, where our old nature wars against our new one.

Romans 8:1-4 “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

I read that Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, writer of “The Four Spiritual Laws and producer of “The Jesus Film, would describe these old and new natures as two dogs: a black dog and a white dog with a customary behavior to fight viciously. Dr. Bright said, “Which dog will win is determined by which dog you feed. Feed the black dog and starve the white dog and the black dog will win; feed the white dog and starve the black dog and the white dog will win. Which nature are you feeding? Much in our culture feeds the “black dog” of the sinful flesh desires. We feed our sin-filled natures often – not always, but often – when we watch and listen to immoral, unethical, unrighteous, ungodly things that distract us from that which is “right in the eyes of God”.  

.Romans 8:5-11 “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind isenmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

Dr. D. James Kennedy commented on Dr. Bill Bright’s assessment, saying: “But, we have a bountiful feast from which to feed the “white dog”, by mindfully walking in the Spirit and living aligned with the perfect Word, Will and Way of the Lord. As we read Holy Scripture, God prepares us for the spiritual warfare we face. To be strong warriors standing firm for Christ, we need to dwell less on things of the flesh and instead delve into the Bible – the living Word of God. We need to write God’s words on the slates of our minds and the tablets of our hearts. We can also feed our new nature by spending quiet time with God, especially praying for wisdom, guidance and counsel.”

Galatians 5:16-17, 24-25 “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

If we are ever to win the warfare within, we need to obediently engage evil with God as our guide. Choose to feast upon God’s Word and on time spent with Him. Do so and you’ll gain the strength you need for the battles ahead.

In Christ, Brian

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rules for Fishing

Mark 1:17 Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

I’ve always loved fishing. I remember as a little guy throwing a line out with red worms on the hook and pulling in a mess of feisty Blue Gull. I have great memories of taking a “six pack” charter boat into Mexican water and catching so many Albacore & Blue Fin Tuna, Yellowtail and Dorado that we filled the hold, and all the bait tanks with fish. We’ve always enjoyed trolling in our 12 foot aluminum boat with the 3 horsepower engineer  and now we venture out into the eastern Sierra Nevada’s Owens valley each year on a 3-generation camping/fishing trip with my dad and son in the Fall. An old co-worker once told me; “Fish live in the most beautiful places”. For many reasons, the fishing is always good, even when the catching is not.

Evangelist Dr. J. Vernon McGee talks about how Luke 5 tells of a time when the Lord Jesus climbed into Simon Peter’s boat and asked him to push it out a little from the land. What a pulpit! People could line the shore and listen. But, every pulpit is a “fishing boat”, a place to give out the Word of God and attempt to catch lost fish. Jesus told his disciples that He would make them fishers of men. That concept has always struck a cord with me and inspired me to be a witness for the Lord. This does not mean that you and I will catch fish every time we give out the gospel and the Word of god, but it does mean that the one on board must not forget the supreme business of life, which is to fish for the souls of people.

After the Lord had finished speaking to the people, He said, “Now we'll leave off fishing for men, and we're going to fish for fish.” He told Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let your net down. You quit fishing with Me; now I am going to fish with you.”

Luke 5:5-6 “And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all night, and have nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they enclosed a great multitude of fish; and their net brake.”

McGee explains that there are many lessons for us here. Fishing is an art and there are rules for success: (1) You must go where the fish are. Get on top of the school and stay there. When the water is boiling, throw your bait there. (2) You must use the right kind of bait, so change type until you find the one that they bite. (3) You must be patient. Anything worthwhile is worth waiting for. (4) But, the most important lesson He is teaching us is that we must fish according to His instructions. Listen to your Fishing Guide. If we are ever going to win men and women for Christ, we must fish according to His instructions. Follow the rules for fishing and catch as many as you can ... it's limitless.

In Christ, Brian

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Peace & Good Will Toward Men

Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Michael writes this week, The Christmas message starts with the angel's proclamation: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and good will toward men”. Jesus came to bring peace to a world that was dead in trespasses and sins. We live in a fallen world without dignity, honor, and righteousness; without God and without hope. A world of darkness is a difficult place to develop relationships. There is so much ill will in a world of darkness that it breaks trust among men and women. The world promises peace, but it's only a fleeting and temporary peace. In a fallen world, peace based on circumstances is as fragile as the next unkind word.  

Isaiah had prophesied many years before the birth of Jesus that "He shall be called the Prince of Peace." Peace is the end of all strife and stems from contention between God and man. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. The angel's Christmas proclamation was that Jesus came to bring a peace treaty from His Heavenly Father. In the midst of the raging storm Jesus said, "Peace, be still."  Even the winds and rain obeyed Him. Jesus came to bring peace by reconciling God to mankind. Peace is the result of bringing opposing factions together based on a common bond of unity. Jesus said, "You won't have peace unless you are men of good will." In order to have peace, we must subjugate our will to His will. Ultimately peace is the result of making His will our will.  

John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

The peace of Jesus Christ is different from the peace offered by the world. Peace according to the world is the absence of war. However peace according to the Word of God is the result of making the Prince of Peace lord of your life. This is the type of peace that Jesus prayed about in the Garden of Gethsemane, "not my will but thine be done."  Peace is the result of reconciling our will with His will. The peace of God transcends circumstances and situations. Peace comes not from external things, rather peace comes from the inside because it is Christ who dwells in us. God sent His Son Jesus Christ to bring a peace treaty from the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus came to reconcile the separation between God and mankind, for He who knew no sin was made the perfect sin sacrifice on our behalf that we may be made the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus said, "Come to me all you who are weary and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.

Isaiah prophesied about the advent of our Lord: “Unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder. And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty of God the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” The message of the Christmas season is for us to deliver the same message of peace that the Angels said on that first Christmas.  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace good will toward men!

May God richly bless you,
Merry Christmas!
Your brother in Christ, Michael