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Saturday
Dec162017

What Shall We Name the Baby?

Human interaction demands that we place everything that has any meaning attached to it into a specific name.  That’s why the naming of a baby is so important to us.  The name differentiates the baby from all other babies.  The name gives significance to the child.  In a very real sense, anything or anyone that doesn’t have a name doesn’t exist.  How?  In a legal, social, economic and political sense, you don’t exist if you don’t have a name.  Only a name confers identity.  Not only that, but it is the special right of the mother and the father to name the baby.  No one else has that right.  Naming is empowerment.  In penitentiaries around the country, once an inmate enters the system, he or she is given a number in lieu of a name.  It is a de-humanizing act that subjects the prisoner to the system.  If the system names you, or re-names you (even if it is with a number), the system owns you! In fact, names were so important in the Bible, that when something of huge significance happened in a person’s life, their name was changed.  Now, God himself began the act of naming.  He told Abram to name his first son Ishmael.  Furthermore, God attached such significance to a name that he changed the name of Abram to Abraham. 

No name in the universe surpasses the Name of Jesus.  This truth elevates Jesus’ name in baptism because that sacrament invokes the saving name of Jesus Christ over the believer. A careful reading of the New Testament reveals that the Apostles used the Name of Jesus Christ exclusively in baptism. “Who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them.  They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 8:15-16. “And he said to them, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ So they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 19:3-5. This made the use of the name of Jesus highly significant, especially regarding the healing of the soul. God always manifested His power on earth through the use of His name.  Consider three blessings that come through the Name of Jesus: 

  • The name of Jesus confers salvation. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
  • The name of Jesus puts devils to flight. “And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour.” Acts 16:18
  • The name of Jesus heals physical ailments. “Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So, he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God.” Acts 3:6-8 

Baptism takes the abstract and makes it practical.  It places the use of the name of Jesus within our grasp. The very name which wielded so much power in the early church belongs to baptized believers. The therapeutic effects of such power are immeasurable.  Never forget the name invoked over you.  “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe.” Proverbs 18:10. 

“What a beautiful … wonderful … powerful Name it is, the Name of Jesus!”

Friday
Dec152017

Don’t Abandon Baptism

Spiritualizing and over-intellectualizing the sacrament of baptism has the ironic effect of insulting the very God who instituted the practice.  Unnecessary.  Superficial.  A human work.  Merely an outward show of an inward faith.  These and other disparaging assertions render the divine ordinance as silly, and call God’s intelligence into question.  Some who dispute the need for baptism have even voided the clear command for baptism in the Scriptures.  

Baptism’s prominence in the Scriptures is irrefutable.  “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Acts 2:38. This was not a one-shot deal.  It was repeated at the Samaritan revival.  “For as yet He [the Holy Spirit] had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 8:16. And, again when the Gentiles were added to the church.  “’Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” Acts 10:47-48.  The Apostle Paul reinforced the command.  “’And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’” Acts 22:16.  

Moreover, the phrase “for the remission of sins” found in Acts 2:38 causes much angst for baptism deniers.  The foremost authority on New Testament Greek, Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, unequivocally states that the phrase means “in order to,” or “for the purpose of,” remitting sins.  It strongly indicates that baptism is essential from the perspective of atonement.  Paul evidently thought so when he said, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins.”   

Don’t pit faith against baptism as though it’s one against the other.  It’s a specious argument that erodes the power of the sacrament. Your faith in Jesus Christ should lead you to baptism, not excuse you from baptism.  Faith should enhance, not diminish baptism’s meaning.  In addition to the remission of sins, baptism represents the moment when the name of Jesus Christ is invoked over a believer.  In fact, Thayer says that the Greek word for “calling upon,” epikaleo, is “to permit oneself to be surnamed.”  In other words, we receive the name of Jesus Christ in baptism! 

Your baptism is more than going down dry and coming up wet.  It connotes a therapeutic process.  Baptism embodies the principle of identification. Through baptism, a believer enters into Christ. (Galatians 3:27.)  Baptism provides access to every victory Jesus won for us. His death, burial, and resurrection belong to the church. We become identified with Christ in the waters of baptism. “… Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:3-4. Baptism swallows up our blemished, corrupt identity. We then become one with Christ.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17. 

Christ’s victory over Satan, the flesh, and the world belong to the church. His triumph over sin belongs to the church. Baptism positions you in an unbeatable place. 

Thursday
Dec142017

Ballpark Religion

“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” Mark 12:34. 

WOULD YOU RATHER BE CLOSE or “right on the mark?”  My dad used to say, “Close only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades.”  Mathematics and physics are not kind to closeness.  Chemists obsess on specificity.  Quality control inspectors measure closeness with micrometers.  Who wants a brain surgeon to almost nail a frontal lobotomy?  Or, a 747-jet pilot who comes close to landing on the runway?  In vital issues where exactitude cannot be fudged, being in the ballpark doesn’t cut it.  I know, I know.  “Nobody’s perfect.”  It seems to me that that excuse justifies loopholes more often than it expresses humility.  If it doesn’t work for brain surgeries or aircraft landings, to be dismissive of orthodoxy in doctrine is flat out wrong.  In eternal matters, we cannot afford to settle for closeness.  

This scribe in question seemed to be thinking the right way.  He confessed that there was one God.  He declared that we must love God.  He believed that loving God was greater than outward ceremonies and religious show.  You have to dig a little deeper, however, to locate the controversial core of this exchange between Jesus and the questioning scribe.  Jesus discerned some equivocation or self-affirmation in the man’s statement.  Jesus’ answer was not evasive, but it was cryptic.  He simply said, “You’re close.”  He didn’t denounce the man.  But, neither did He say, “That’s it!  You’ve got it!”  Jesus combined encouragement with warning: “You’re not far!”  Now, the man simply needed to make the final connection.  Evidently, the Master struck a nerve because the man asked no more questions. 

Cornelius discovered that devotion was not enough.  He was a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” Acts 10:2. But close didn’t cut it.  God’s angel told him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon … He will tell you what you must do.” Acts 10:4-6.  In Athens, the Apostle Paul told the worshipers of the “unknown god” that religion wasn’t enough. (Acts 17:22-23.)  In Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla encountered Apollos.  When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Acts 18:26. 

“Not far from the Kingdom.”  “Not far” describes the thickness of glass between the space shuttle and nothingness of space; between a submarine and millions of tons of crushing water; between the glass observatory platform jutting out from the rim of the Grand Canyon and a fatal plunge to the canyon floor, 2000 feet below.  

In the pursuit of God, the greatest tragedy is not the many who aren’t close enough to hear His voice; it is the few who actually consider it, analyze it, evaluate it, compare it, critique it—and then do nothing about it.  The final distance between you and an altar of repentance is the hardest piece of real estate to conquer.  The final surrender, the final confession, the final expression of faith, the final act of obedience, the final embracing of truth presents the greatest challenge.  The scribe preferred playing politics with truth.  He was so close that he knew he didn’t have an excuse, yet he still had no intention to truly accept Christ.  What is the will of God for you?  Whatever the cost, do it.  You will not be just in the ballpark.  You will cross home plate.

Wednesday
Dec132017

Five Accomplishments of the Blood of Jesus Christ

From its storied and cryptic past, the mere whisper of the word blood unleashes a floodgate of images, thoughts, feelings and concepts.  Blood drips from every nook and cranny of our culture.  Our literature reeks with its crimson references—violent murders, ritualistic mutilation of bodies, slaughter and genocide.  We shudder with haunting tales of vampire myths, blood sacrifices—both animal and human—and satanic ceremonies gory with bloodshed.  Yet, blood has deep, covenantal meaning.  Native-Americans would cut and join thumbs to make blood brothers, or, would often cut their forearms. At a casual glance, anyone could see a scar that indicated the bearer was in covenant.  This cultural significance of blood underscores the attention the Word of God gives to it.  Christ’s blood goes to the heart of our salvation.  Take solemn note: 

1. You are forgiven of all your sin.  Theologically, you are returned to the state of innocence that Adam and Eve had before the fall. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.” Hebrews 9:22. “… the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7. “… Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” Revelation 1:5. 

2. You have protection from judgment. God could not ignore the offense of sin.  His holiness would not allow it.  He spent all of His wrath on the body of Jesus Christ.  When you plead the blood, you are spared from the wrath of God against sin.  “… and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.” Exodus 12:13. 

3. You are a participant of Christ’s victory over Satan. You didn’t die on the cross; you didn’t spill your blood.  You, however, join in Christ’s triumph over Satan at Calvary just as though you won the victory yourself. “And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony …” Revelation 12:11.  

4. You are absolved and delivered from guilt. You are not only freed from the sentence against sin, you are also relieved of the guilt of sin. “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled …” Colossians 1:20.  “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience …” Hebrews 9:14.  Satan may not use your sin against you at though you are still guilty.  Your freedom is not only legal and theological, it is emotional and psychological.  “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus … Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience …” Hebrews 10:19, 22.  Christ’s blood not only sets you free, it restores your joy! 

5. You have secured peace with God. The blood of Christ eliminates tension and animosity between you and God.  It spares you the actual penalty of sin, and, by the same token, the blood relieves you God’s anger against you. “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him.” Colossians 1:20 (KJV).  It is time to break forth in singing!  “In sin I wandered sore and sad, with bleeding heart and aching head, ‘Till Jesus came and sweetly said, “I’ll take thy sins away.” Thank God for the blood! Thank God for the blood! Thank God for the blood! That washes white as snow!”

Tuesday
Dec122017

Do You Hear the Rain?

“There is a sound of abundance of rain.” 1 Kings 18:41 

Humankind cannot live without water, and the earth cannot have water without rainfall.  In the miraculous ecosystem devised by God, the oceans yield vast amounts of water to the process of evaporation, and then the winds take the clouds of water to the various parts of the earth to dump the liquid of life on the plant and animal kingdom.  This phenomenon of rainfall has its application to the acts of God in a spiritual sense as well as a natural one.  God wants us to live, and God wants His church to live. Yet, there is a condition known as a draught, or a long period of time in which the heavens do not yield their rain.  

“Droughts are caused by a depletion of precipitation over time. Prolonged lack of rain will cause regions around the world to slowly dry out. Frequently, droughts are billion-dollar weather events and are one of the top three threats to population in the world. Drought may take decades to develop, and predicting them is difficult. Their devastation can be far-reaching and severe. Atmospheric conditions such as ocean temperatures, changes in the jet stream and landscape are all culprits in the long story of the causes of droughts.” Rachel Oblack, About.com. 

What about a spiritual drought?  If it appears that the work of God has entered into long and terminal decline, do not fear.  At some point, through some era, by some means, he will revive the mention of his name and kindle the fires of revival. The work of God is both sovereign and universal.  He exercises complete and total authority over his creation, and he coordinates and orchestrates his work everywhere at the same time. God will not permit human history to blot out the mention of his name.  He will not suffer his eternal truths to be savaged and buried by despots or tyrants, by kingdoms or empires, by philosophers or intellectuals, by artists or militants, by princes, presidents or prime ministers, or by atheists or misguided theologians. 

The scriptures teach that God has a plan for revival. “O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.”  Joel 2:28.  God uses metaphors that we can all understand that shed light on the nature and effects of a heaven-sent revival. Evidently, He wants us to see revival as a long-awaited rain that comes at the end of a drought.  Every face is turned toward heaven, every eye searches the sky, every heart jumps at the feintest cloud formation in hopes of a few drops of water to refresh the ground. 

Arthur Wallis writes, “A reservoir in the hills supplied a village community with water.  It was fed by a mountain stream, and the overflow from the reservoir continued down the stream-bed to the valley below.  This stream never attracted any attention or gave the villagers any trouble.  One day, however, some large cracks appeared in one of the walls of the old reservoir.  Soon afterwards, the wall collapsed, and the water came cascading down the hillside.  Great trees were rooted up, boulders tossed about like playthings, houses and bridges destroyed.  What had before been taken for granted now became an object of awe, wonder and fear.  From far and near, people came to see what had happened.”  -God’s Chosen Fast.  Today’s decadence must not discourage you.  Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds!  Revival is coming!

Monday
Dec112017

Don’t Be Afraid of the Fire

When Pastor Paul Mooney visited a glassblower’s gallery, he asked the proprietor what was necessary to learn the art.  Her answer startled him.  “You can’t be afraid of the fire.” Beautiful glass creations can only be crafted as the artisan gets as close as possible to the fire.  He immediately saw the spiritual application.   Fire burns throughout Scripture.  It burned in Old Testament sacerdotal rituals.  Fire perpetually burned on the altar of incense and candlesticks.  Fire consumed Elijah’s sacrifice before the false prophets.  Tongues like fire sat upon the 120 in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost.  Indeed, the Scriptures declare that “God is a consuming fire!” (Deuteronomy 4:24). 

Fire may represent spiritual power, but fire is also dangerous. Scientifically speaking, fire is a rapid chemical reaction known as oxidation. Inside a fire, oxygen molecules break bigger molecules apart into carbon dioxide and water vapor. All the heat and light of a fire comes from big, carbon-based molecules combining with oxygen. When the right substances are present, and when the temperature reaches an ignition point, a fire starts.  Fire changes whatever it burns into a different substance. The only way glass-blowing can work is that sand gets so hot that it changes its molecular structure.  It melts it to the point that it becomes transparent. 

Too many believers have become afraid of God’s fire.  Even Apostolic, Pentecostal people have grown distant from the fire that birthed them into the church!  Services that have too much fire are embarrassing.  Dangerous.  Out of control.  Not cool.   But, the gifts of the Spirit—like speaking in tongues—are not only scriptural, they are central to the kind of revival that drove the early Pentecostals and the Pentecostals of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Spirit-led services.  Walking and living in the Spirit.  In fact, you cannot read the NT without seeing that the operation of the Spirit of God was at the core of the growth and character of the Apostolic age! “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.” Acts 5:12-14. 

The early church strategized, but they operated out of the fire, not out of the playbook.  They planned, but they operated out of the prayer meeting, not out of the planning session.  It seems to me that they were pretty successful in achieving their goals—and they didn’t even have any goals!  They just had revival! They didn’t have video projectors.  They didn’t have flat screens hanging everywhere.  They didn’t have live-streaming. They didn’t have spotlights.  They didn’t have computer generated sermons.  They didn’t have electronic keyboards and synthetic music.  But what they did have made up for all the things they didn’t have!  They had a God connection!  They had Holy Ghost fire! 

It is notable that the wild fires that have burned out west in recent years have been studied extensively.  Scientists now say something remarkable—wild fires create their own weather!  The rapid oxidation, the plumes of smoke, the intense heat all combine to perpetuate the flames.  Fire has a transformative power.  How can an old, hard, gritty sinner, alcoholic, drug abuser, philanderer, adulterer, thief, cheat, liar, profane person ever change?  By the fire! The closer you get to the fire, the hotter God’s Spirit burns within you!  He can melt you down, change your thinking, cleanse your mind and heart, and create something brand new out of the old you! Our God is a consuming fire! Don’t be afraid of the fire.  Get close.  Touch it.  Feel it.  Take it.  Use it.  Let it transform you!

Sunday
Dec102017

Don’t Remove a Fence Until You Know Why It Was Built

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14

“GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS.” So goes an old saying, repeated and made famous in “The Mending Wall” by Robert Frost.  But we also have Ronald Reagan’s “Tear down this wall,” and Donald Trump’s “Build the wall.” The ambivalence is maddening.  Walls, fences, barricades, hedges—all of them represent a boundary that forbids entrance or restricts exit.  Frost’s poem presents this conundrum: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know, What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence.”  It’s all summed up in the motive of the fence-builder.  We find the answer by asking why the fence was erected in the first place. 

Fences either wall in or wall out.  We put up fences to provide safe places for our babies, our pets or our possessions.  Fences also keep thieves, predators and vandals from accessing our treasures.  Fences stop encroachment on our property and unlawful use of our lands.  If the world was free from danger, we could do away with fences.  It is the height of naiveté, however, to make such an irresponsible assumption.  We use passwords, fingerprint recognition software and encrypted formulas to protect our identities.  No one puts his or her social security number out in the public eye.  Police forces, standing armies and elaborate security systems, all testify to the perils of living in the modern world.  

What’s going on?  The incessant push of new ideas, new goals and new methods force constant change on the landscape.  In their wake, people perceive old paradigms as anachronisms that need to be updated or eliminated.  We redefine old enemies, reevaluate challenges, and realign our purposes to suit new perceptions of the world around us.  In the transition, the eagerness for change often calls the shots rather than a common-sense assessment of reality. We rip before we review.  Some don’t like fences because they’re ugly, inconvenient, too much trouble to keep up, or they imply bigotry. To be sure, some things should change.  We don’t need better coal shovels for our furnaces, or a better way to keep horses from soiling our highways.  But, there are other aspects of life that must never change—like the value of hard work, the need for ethical behavior or respect for each other.  When we tear down fences that protect timeless truths, we open ourselves up for disaster. 

The Scriptures establish guidelines for righteous living and basic holiness.  Some use the term standards.  Decry, resent or ridicule them if you like, but they serve a valuable purpose.  Think of guidelines as guardrails over a bridge or a dangerous stretch of roadway.  The world’s longest bridge is the Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge in China, spanning 102.4 miles (165 kilometers).  Technically, it is possible for one to cross this bridge day or night, in all sorts of weather, without guardrails.  But, who would dare?  Granted, the guardrails do not make the bridge, but they do insure the safety of the travelers.  The guardrails require maintenance, and sometimes motorists run into them and suffer injuries.  Nevertheless, no one is suggesting that the Chinese government take them down for being a nuisance. 

Driving out across the countryside, I’ve seen plenty of broken fences and wrecked walls.  Usually, they surround vacant lots, dilapidated barns or abandoned houses.  Fabulous estates and expensive holdings, however, stand secure behind fences and walls.  It would seem, then, that fences are a function of the value of one’s possessions.  In the end, holiness represents the measure of respect you give to your eternal possessions.

Saturday
Dec092017

Heaven on Earth?

WE EASILY RECOGNIZE THESE WORDS as part of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10. At this point in the prayer, however, we leave the pronouncement and enter the petition.  God’s Kingdom is not yet fully established in this earth.  This is a tacit admission of the world’s wickedness and sin.  The turmoil, death, disease, conflict, wars, rebellion and blasphemy that convulse this world demonstrate that the Kingdom of God has not yet overtaken the world. 

God’s will is peace, holiness, truth, wholeness, and agreement with God.  But, realists don’t pretend that the will of God in the world is reality.  Yet, we read, “Your will be done in earth.”  Jesus qualifies this by adding “…as it is in heaven.” Wait a minute.  As it is in heaven?  Who knows what is going on in heaven?  Why should we pray that the will of God should be done down here just like it is done up there?  Good question … simple answer!  The One who was speaking on earth was the Lord from heaven!  Who knows better what is going on in heaven, than Jesus!  So now, the question is, “What is going on in heaven?” Once we understand that, we can pray with greater assurance, greater confidence and greater expectation about what we want to happen down here.  So, the question is, why should we pray down heaven?  Three things: 

First, the absolute sovereignty of God reigns in heaven.  We see an unprecedented display of demonic opposition in these endtimes.  The attack on the church leadership has the fingerprints of the devil all over it.  But, when you understand what heaven is all about, you can rise up with an anointing and prayer that God would recreate the condition on earth that is the status quo in heaven! To illustrate, the sixteen territories and possessions of the US fall under the jurisdiction of our government.  Any vessel sailing under the Stars and Stripes is under the jurisdiction of the United States.  Ever see the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima?  It was a sign that a new authority just took over.  Likewise, when you raise the blood-stained banner of the Cross over your life, you vacate Satan’s authority over you! 

Second, the Word of God has supreme authority in heaven. On earth, some people hate the authority of the Bible. Maligned, ridiculed and profaned, the Word of God nevertheless survives and thrives!  In the book of Acts, we find numerous accounts that say the Word of God triumphed.  Acts 6:7, “And the word of God increased.” (Also, Acts 12:24 and 19:20).  In the end, the Word of God wins!  Paul said, “Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.” 2 Timothy 2:9. The Word of God is not bound to man; the Word of God is not bound by man.  The Word must triumph in your life now!  Pray to that end.  Pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven!” 

Last, worship of the Lamb pervades heaven! All of heaven’s attention is focused on God Himself! Isaiah 6:1-3 paints the scene for us. This was not a momentary event.  It had been going on since before the creation of the earth.  Worship has been the status quo for many millennia since the time of Isaiah’s vision! It is still happening today!  Worship, therefore, needs to dominate your personal relationship to God. Corporate services need to be filled with worship. 

God’s sovereignty, the Word’s authority and the Lamb’s worship overflows in heaven!  Pray down heaven on earth!