Seeing God Smile

On the evening of my last day in the city of my visit, we were returning to my room for the evening before my departure the next morning, and we noticed a particularly bright sunset so my translator took this picture.  We both commented on it being especially bright and beautiful.  It wasn’t until I got home and was working with the pictures that I had collected that I looked at it closer and it caused me to catch my breath.  Look at it closer at what you see and try to identify what I saw.  In the bright white I saw a dove with its wings outstretched.  I even saw its head and a portion of its tail.  It was as if the Lord was saying, “This is why I sent you here”.

I am not saying it really was a dove or even a perfect semblance of a dove.  Still, that is what it appeared to be to me and some others that have seen the picture.  It really doesn’t matter what you see, it was a blessing to us and so fitting a way to end the trip.

This wasn’t the only thing that evidenced God’s hand on us during this trip.  I had people from many places that let me know that they were praying for the trip on many levels and for many reasons.  Places like Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Texas.  Our home church and many others, friends, family and even strangers that just heard about it were praying.  It seemed to me that they all were trying to warn me about the dangers and I felt a little like the Apostle Paul when he was returning to Jerusalem and was warned about what he would face on three separate occasions. (Acts 21) His reply to them was (v. 13) (Paraphrased) ‘I know that, why do you want to weep and break my heart?  I am prepared to pay any price to honor the name of the Lord.  (simply, I am compelled to go.)  I knew what could happen but I did not fear it for it would have been a small price to pay for such an honor to go in His name.

I am happy to report that everything that happened on the trip was completely in His hands and under His control.  Every objective that I had hoped for was completed without incident. My heart was stretched; all my needs were provided for; I was received like royalty; my ability to handle the foods were more than satisfied; my energy never abated; I was busy the entire time I was there and saw the Lord alive and active in the lives of my brethren there in China.  It was more than apparent to me that I was beholding God at work because I was not directing what happened, nor was anyone else.  God had initiated the trip from the idea to go to supplying every need to bringing the results to fruition.  Truly a demonstration of the operation of faith, and then sealing it with His approval.  See what the Lord will do when we leave the driving to Him.

Dealing With the Flesh (Carnal Nature)

Every once in a while I am asked the question, “How do I break the grip of a certain unnamed sin?”  It could be any one of a number of sins but the answer is the same.  All you need to do is die.  No, I am not saying that you have to die physically but I am saying that you have to die to the control of the flesh demands.  You see there are two natures within the Christian, the lower nature called the flesh and the spiritual nature we call the spirit.  Galatians 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.  There is a war going on all the time.  The flesh hates the things of God and the Spirit resists the things of the flesh.  If I decide to follow the cravings of the flesh, the Spirit will convict me, and if I decide to follow the Spirit, the flesh will cry out like a whining baby.  The more the flesh gets its way the more it will demand because the flesh is wholly and completely given to sin.  When the Spirit wins the battle, the flesh is subdued and the fallen nature will yield to the Spirit.

This fight is to the death.  You cannot hope to settle the conflict with a compromise or by trying to be fair because the flesh does not fight fair.  You cannot win by fighting with will power because that is governed by the flesh.  Trying harder is a recipe for failure.  Determination will not win either for that is the effort of the mind which is controlled by the flesh.  The truth is that no matter how hard you try and whatever method you use, you will not win this way because the your personal strength is not sufficient to break the bonds of sin.  There is only one way to win and that is to die to the strength of the flesh.  That includes any and all methods of self effort.  Since you cannot win by the flesh, you must be delivered from a power that is greater than the force that binds you.

Note what it says in the previous verse Galatians 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.  The only way to be successful is to walk in the Spirit and He will guide you.  If you are going to trust the Spirit you cannot your own formula to it, though that is just what the flesh will try to get you to do.  Romans 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  There it is, the answer that so often eludes the one caught in a repeating sin and cannot find their way out.  The old nature must die.

The death of the old man (nature) is imposed upon you by the work of God in bringing you to the point of distrust and despite of the old man.  Notice that this death is by crucifixion and not by suicide.  God will do the work of destroying the old nature while we trust Him and not ourselves.  The end result is the death of the old man which frees us from its grip and now we can serve God.  Ro 6:7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.  Ro 6:12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.  Ga 5:18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.  Ga 5:24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.   1Peter 1:5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Reconnecting

Lots of people have a bad day but ever so often we have a wonderful day.  Yesterday was one of those special days for me.  Our Sunday School class went quite well (except for not having enough time – we never do).  Then the Message was good as well.  Lunch included my oldest son and his family which we always enjoy.  Then my favorite football team won its second game.  The highlight came when I was able to reconnect with on of my ‘preacher boys’ that I had lost track of several years ago.  His name is Adam and he is Jewish.  I was privileged to be present when he surrendered to the Lord Jesus as his Messiah.  Later, he answered the call to preach and then went on to get his schooling.

I was able to attend his graduation when he got his bachelors degree.  He then attended a special school to work with Jews and then after finishing that school, he went on to Southern Seminary.  While he was at seminary is when I lost contact with him.  I tried to reconnect many times but was never able to do so.  Yesterday that connection was made and it was as though no time had passed, though it had been about 20 years.  We talked for over an hour and shared some of the events of that time.  He has remained solid in his commitment to the Lord, even though he has had some rough times.  He has seen his mother, his dad, his brother, his sister and his 13 year old adopted daughter all come to the Lord.  His dad was an orthodox Jew and that took some work for him to come to know his Messiah.

I share this with you as a point of personal Joy.  Today I am ridding on cloud nine.  It fills a hollow spot that was left when I lost contact.  That spot was filled when we were able to reconnect and restore our fellowship.  There is a passage of Scripture in Luke15:8-10  Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?  And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.  Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.  This story of similar context points out that there is joy in the presence of the angles of God over the restored relationship.  Notice that it does not say that the angles are the ones who are doing the rejoicing, but that there is joy in their presence.  I take that to mean that the one doing the rejoicing is God, Himself who is rejoicing in their presence.  If that is true then God has joy and it is produced by even one who will turn back to Him, repenting of their sin.

God knew us from before He laid the foundation of the world (Creation).  We were brought into this world under the curse of sin and alienated from God.  God rejoices when one turns his back on sin and comes back to Him.  At that point God secures him by sealing him with the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes he gets entangled with the world  and looses his way ahead.  If he will listen to the Holy Spirit, He will guide him back to the Lord and that joy will once again be restored.

Living by Faith

Everyone lives by faith all the time, but it is not the faith referenced in the Bible.  To understand this truth, you must understand what faith is and what the faith of the Bible is.  Faith simply means to trust or rely on.  When you sit in a chair you are exercising your faith in the chair.  When you take medicine, you are relying on the doctors and those making the medicine to prescribe the correct dosage.  When you drive a car your are relying on the car to perform a certain way and that the other drivers will observe the laws.  On an on it goes as we place our lives on the line because we trust in the objects of our faith.  This type of faith is in material living but it is not the faith intended in the Bible.  The Bible restricts our faith to the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is Spiritual in nature and is eternal in its scope.  The purpose of faith is not to provide some type of utopia for you but to direct you through this maze of traps and pitfalls we call life and to cooperate with the Lord in His transforming us into creatures of righteousness.  Because we are incapable of living righteously on our own because of our sin nature, the Lord has provided a way for us to live life on His level of righteousness and that is to obey the Holy Spirit.

It doesn’t take will power, it takes faith and obedience.  It doesn’t take strength, it takes weakness.  It doesn’t take works or deeds, it takes a reliance on God for what we cannot do. Faith in the Lord is an equal opportunity plan.  Everyone has the capacity to meet the demands of God through faith in Him, without adding any righteousness on our own.  It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, educated or not, with or without wealth, or any other such contrast.  The one thing that is required is that you are trusting the Lord and not anything other than the Lord.

So how do you know that the Lord is directing you.  First of all He has given us His Word, the Bible.  Whatever direction you have should be measured against what the Bible says.  That is the only 100% safe written word.  Secondly, what is the witness of the Holy Spirit within you?  You do not have the Holy Spirit within you until you are born again.  If you have never been saved then you do not have the witness of the Spirit to direct you.  That does not mean that He is not working for you, it just means that you do not have the spiritual sensitivity to know His leading.  Thirdly, (assuming you are a Christian) does the direction contradict spiritual principles established through the ages of the church and your Christian experiences?  Fourthly, does it edify others, yourself and your witness?  Fifthly, does it magnify and honor the Lord?

2Co 5:7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)

The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Sometimes we read the Scriptures without really examining them closely to see what it really says.  For example, we read the above scripture and resolve to produce these qualities in our own lives.  We are to be commended for wanting these qualities to be a part of who we are but there is a critical fault with this thinking.

Notice that the scripture states that this fruit is of the Spirit.  It is not something that we can produce within ourselves but it is what the Holy Spirit produces in us.  John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.  Fruit is the natural product of the tree.  A peach tree will always produce peaches as it’s natural product.  It doesn’t have to strain at it or to even decide what it’s fruit will be like.  It is a natural thing that is produced because of what the tree is.  When a person is saved, he is transformed into a new creation of God.  Whereas he was only fallen humanity, he is now become a child of God because the Holy Spirit has become a part of him in a permanent way (II Corinthians 5:17).  The Holy Spirit then begins to work on the individual so that these qualities become his new way of life.

Secondly, notice that it is stated in the singular tense, “the fruit”.  There are not nine different types of fruit, but just one fruit.  It is not something that you can pick and choose from but it is all encompassing.  The Holy Spirit the whole fruit, not just some of its parts.  These qualities are the essence of God’s nature so that we take on the Image and likeness of God in our own nature.

Lets look a little closer to this fruit.  It is made up of three sets of three.  The first set of three is Love, Joy and Peace.  This is our inner sense of being, because of God’s presence.  The second set of three is longsuffering, gentleness, goodness which is how we respond to others.  The third set of three is faith, meekness, and self control which is how we respond to God.  These qualities come out naturally as we allow the Holy Spirit to direct out way.

Jesus said that you know the tree by its fruit.  Mt 12:33 Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.  

Wheat or Chaff?

Matthew 3:11-12 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:  Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

When John the Baptist used this reference in Matthew 3:12 he was referring to a very common practice that was used in the harvesting of the wheat to separate the wheat from the chaff.  When the grain was harvested it was tossed into the air with a winnowing fork and the chaff which was light would be carried by the wind but the kernels of grain which was heavier would drop much closer.  The grain could be then gathered into a small basked and the process could be taken to the next step of further refinement and separation.  This is what is referenced as thoroughly purging the floor or gathering all of the grain for storage.  When the grain had been gathered and safely stored then the chaff would be piled up and burned as it was of no further use.  While the grain was growing the chaff served the purpose of protecting the grain but once the grain was ripe it lost its use.

So now we come to our question, what is the illustration of winnowing pointing out?  John the Baptist pointed out that he was baptizing with water but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.  Most of the time when we reference baptism it is in reference to water baptism which is the picturing of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is also a picture of the testimony of the new believer who has died to sin, been buried in a grave of water and raised to walk in newness of life.

Now lets look at the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  There is some confusion on this with some Christians.  Ephesians 4:5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,  Their understanding is that you get saved and then there is a second work of God that they identify as the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  This is not sound doctrine as the Bible teaches that you receive the Holy Spirit when you believe or are saved.  It is further emphasized in Eph 4:5 where the Greek translates it as one placing into.  It is the same as the sealing of the Holy Spirit and  it is our earnest or down payment on His promise of eternal life.  This is to be differentiated from a filling of the Holy Spirit or being controlled by the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is sealed with our spirit in an irreversible act that will stand the test of time and fire.  The purpose is to free us from sin and to transform us into creatures of righteousness.  It is a process that continues until we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air.  As the grain is what is valuable in the harvest, so also is the believer who God will so equip with the Holy Spirit so as to enable us to stand the test of fire.  Our works will be burnt up but the work that the Lord has done on us to separate us from sin, just as the grain is separated from the chaff, is what is valuable to God.

The baptism of fire is another vivid illustration and can be understood as we look at the life of the believer.  Once he has become a Christian, the Lord goes to work in His transforming process.  He allows trials and tribulations and persecutions to come on the believer and is often accused of not caring for him.  These events, though hard to experience, are designed of God to teach us eternal truth.  He said that if they persecuted Him then they will persecute us. All our works will be burnt up but that which is eternal that has been built into us will endure and fire will have no effect on it.  Things like the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self control) is being built into us and will remain through the fire.  It is all to change our thinking so that His ways become our ways and His thoughts become our thoughts.  Then we will understand.

First Visits

The women at the tomb

The first to visit the tomb on Easter Sunday morning was Mary Magdalene who came while it was still dark.  She found the stone rolled away from the tomb entrance and concluded that Jesus’ body had been moved so she ran to tell Peter and John.  She joined the other women when the sun was risen.  They came to anoint the body with spices but they were confronted with a shocking revelation from the angles that He had risen from the dead.  They went therefore to tell the disciples.

Peter and John

John was the first to arrive and look in to the tomb but waited outside for Peter to arrive.  When Peter arrived he immediately went in. (Note previous my blog on the grave clothes)  They were confronted with evidence that defied normal explanation.  John believed immediately and Peter left in wonderment.

Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus

Mary was so disturbed by not knowing where Jesus body was and her grief of her loss that she didn’t recognize Jesus and thought he was a gardener.  When Jesus spoke, she recognized Him and reached out to hold Him.  Jesus said don’t cling to me for I am not yet ascended to My Father.  He didn’t say don’t touch me but he used the word haptomai which means attach oneself to another or to cling.  She had lost Him once and she didn’t want to lose Him again.  Remember, Jesus told His disciples the it is expedient for you that I go away for if I go not away, the Holy Spirit would not come.  Jesus intended for us to know Him in another way by being indwelt with the Holy Spirit until we receive our resurrected bodies.   Having then been confronted with Christ Himself, she went again to tell the disciples with a new urgency in her report.

The Two On the Road to Emmaus

Emmaus was a town about 8 miles NE from Jerusalem and was located about 3,000 lower in elevation.  One of the two was Cleopas and the other is unnamed.  They were downtrodden and speculated about the events of the crucifixion as they walked.  Jesus, Himself joined them but was unrecognized.  He then engaged them in their conversation and they restated the events including the morning reports from the women.  Then Jesus chided them in being slow to believe and began at the prophets He interpreted the Scriptures concerning Himself. As they arrived at Emmaus they invited Jesus to stay with them since it was evening.  As they were eating Jesus broke the bread and gave it to them.  As they were confronted with the truth of who Jesus is, He vanished out of their site.

These are not the only sighting of Jesus but they are recorded for us so that we too can come to the truth of who Jesus is and that He is resurrected.  You have now been confronted with the truth.  What does it take to convince you HE IS ALIVE!!!

The Comforter

John 16:7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

There was a time when I was jealous of the disciples because they got to spend over three years walking with the Lord and learning from Him every day.  I guess that I felt cheated because I was not one of them.  I love the Lord and wanted every advantage that could be had to know Him and His way.

I guess that the disciples felt something a bit similar to that when Jesus spoke these words to them.  They had come to respect Him and they also loved Him and knew that He was indeed the Messiah.  I am sure that they felt the impending loss and drew back from it.  You see it in Peter when he tried to defend the Lord with a sword in the garden when Jesus was arrested.

Jesus knew how that we cling to him.  What we don’t see is that clinging is man’s effort to hold onto Him and we should be trusting on His holding onto us.  He told Mary in the morning of His resurrection, “Don’t cling to me.”  He knew that we were weak and could not hang on tight enough so He devised a better plan.  He would hold onto us and He does have the strength to keep us.  Not only that but if He went away we would need His presence and power within us.  His statement about His not going away revealed that this greater relationship would be impossible unless He did.  As long as Jesus was present in bodily form then He could work with us one or only a few at a time.  But with His plan to go away opened the way for Him to live “within” each of us individually.  This promise of the “Comforter” gives us an advantage that even the disciples, who walked with Jesus, never had.  They had Christ with them but we have Christ within us and we can know Him as He is knowing us.