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Friday, February 4, 2011

Giving Honor Where Honor Is Due

Titus 2:11-14

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Giving Honor Where Honor is Due

I met the Williams' only months after my born-again experience. I received salvation on the floor of my bathroom, but felt I needed to go to church to learn more about my new life and meet others who'd made the same commitment. I began (logically) at the church just down the road from me. It was a small Assembly of God church out in the country. The congregation was small—as in maybe 10-20 people small. Most of the people were sweet and welcoming, though many of them never learned my name and one insisted on calling me "sister Bobby's wife." But the thing was they were not kind to their Pastors. They found ways of starving out the ones they didn't like and they split the church four times in the months my family and I were there.

My husband got so frustrated he quit going to church at all. My kids wanted to quit too. But I'd had this experience with Christ that would not let me quit just because some Christians didn't behave the way I (and my family) thought they should. I suggested to my family that we go on an adventure to find a church where we "fit." My husband said to me, "You go. When you find the right place, I'll join you." My kids said it wasn't fair that dad didn't have to go and they did—and so, on my own, I went in search of the family of God that could love me and my crew.

I was only months old in the Christian faith—in fact—I didn't have much faith. I felt fairly sure I wasn't going to hell when I died, but that was about as far as it went. I knew little or nothing about God because I'd only been reading the Bible for a few months. But I knew the one scripture that said not to give up gathering with other believers so we could encourage one another. I knew that one because the first Pastor at the country church spoke it each time we gathered. What little Bible I knew, I grabbed onto, because I wanted this relationship with God.

So—being the baby Christian I was—I prayed. I asked God to direct my course so I found the place for me and my family to know Him. I prayed as I drove through the country roads and onto the highway. I prayed as I came into Poteau. "Where Lord? Where do I belong?"

I was shy then, as timid as timid can be. I came into the city limits of Poteau and saw a steeple. To me, that steeple was a beacon. It beckoned me to enter. I pulled into the parking lot of Calvary Assembly of God and watched all the people go in the glass double doors. I noticed they dressed in nicer clothes than I was wearing, and they all seemed to know one another, but I forced myself to enter that sanctuary. I was—after all—on a mission.

I sat in the back and sang the songs during song service. Then the Pastor, Kenneth Williams, stood up to minister and I knew I belonged. He preached about Bible prophesy and I heard every word with rapt attention. Fascinated, that God's word talked about this century—let alone the hour I was living in. After the service was over the Pastor stood at the door to shake every hand of the people as they left. His handshake was warm and his smile friendly—and I carried the fragrance of Polo cologne home with me to tell my family I'd found the place we belonged.

Pastor Ken's wife, Alice is a Bible teacher that kept me digging deeper into God's truth. Her teaching grounded me and Pastor's prophetic ministry encouraged me. I rarely missed a service. And I did get my kids to go with me. My husband decided not to go back to church. He didn't see the evidence of love among the faithful like he thought he should and decided that it wasn't worth the effort to go. It wasn't easy to go alone—to grow alone—but I wanted this relationship with God.

The Williams' teachings, watchful care and knowledgeable prayers anchored me in a deeply enduring association with God. If they hadn't been the Pastors they were—true shepherds—I may not have flourished and stayed plugged in as I did. I may not have been as trusting as I've been. They strengthened me for hard times to come and taught me that no matter what I see around me, God is with me and He cares. I can hold onto that when things get bumpy.

Pastors Ken and Alice Williams, I honor you today. I thank you for being the shepherds so faithful to what God called you to do. I celebrate with you the rewards He has for you, because you have been faithful. I bless you and pray for you. You are precious to me and few days go by that I don't think of you with gratitude in my heart. I love you.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Balancing Grace, Faith and Love

Before I became a born-again Christian, there were people praying for me. I am grateful for their prayers. I believe their prayers brought the person into my life that could share the gospel with me so I understood it and received it. I wasn't an instant success, this guy needed persistence and stamina. It took two years of him telling me stories of Jesus before I received Christ, but when I did—I did.

Though there were Christians who tried to witness to me before Stanley, most showed me church, not Christ. Most showed me judgment and told me about the wrath of God rather than showing me His goodness. Paul says it is God's goodness that draws people to repentance (change of mind) (Rom 2:4). It was when I saw the goodness of Jesus that I chose to follow Him. That is the gospel Stanley preached. He told me about the good God who so loved me that He sent His only begotten Son to live the example of life He wanted for me. He revealed God's Son laid His perfect down as a sacrifice for me so I could have the life He demonstrated. Stanley did not berate me with my sin, he didn't try to show me where I missed the mark—He showed me Jesus—and without a word spoken about my sin, I knew I was a sinner. I knew without Jesus I had no hope of being otherwise. I knew that I had repeatedly missed the mark God fixed for me and would continue to do so without Him killing me to stop the cycle. But Jesus . . .

Jesus saw my condition too, and chose to do what only He could do about it—He took my place on the cross of judgment. Though my sin invited sickness to enter my body, He bore the stripes that paid for everlasting healing for me. The seeds I'd sown throughout my life reaped a life of poverty, but He bore the judgment for my wrong ways and delivered me from poverty. My words and actions wrought for me shame and humiliation, but Jesus bore that too, and placed His robe of virtue around me. Jesus became a shield around me, my glory and lifted my head. Each time I read the Bible, I realized there was something I was free of or something I had gained through my relationship with God through Christ. That is the power of grace. That is the grace that brought me to faith.

I believe this is where the first century church began—at this place of grace—through faith because of the word spoken to them. I believe our words should bring faith to people. I believe we should speak in such a way to bring faith to people so they can access the grace God freely offers all of us. As I learned last week, "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." (Titus 2:11). But I think sometimes we fall into the same category as the Christians who tried to get me saved before Stanley came with the good news. I think we want to scare people into salvation. I've known some people scared into salvation, and those people didn't hold on when times got tough. They decided it was too hard to live for a God that never seemed pleased and with so many rules. I don't know any person scared into salvation that hasn't given up on being a Christian. Why? Because of the God we revealed to them.

I believe it has something to do with repentance. The word used in Romans 2:4, and translated as "repentance" means "to change the mind." That definition is from The Complete Word Study Dictionary for the New Testament. When people receive salvation to avoid hell, most of the time they don't change their minds about their life of sin, they just want to change their destination. But when we witness the goodness of God, we want to be like Him. We want to let Him change us from what we were to what He is. We change our mind about what is good and pleasant and acceptable. Many of us have not witnessed goodness until we've seen God. Jesus said even good fathers on earth are evil in comparison to God (Mt 7:9-11). I believe if we can show people God's goodness, then they will be healthier and happier Christians from the start.

I also believe if we can reveal God's love for people, they will have more faith to hold on during hard times. If we really believe He is love, we won't believe He put illness in our bodies, or allows the devil to put illness in our bodies. I don't know any parent who puts illness on their child. When our kids get sick, we take them to the doctor and get them all the help we can get. Yet, some are willing to believe that God has allowed them to be sick to teach them something, or to give them a "cross to bear." But that's not what the Bible says. The Bible says in comparison to God's goodness, we are evil. The Bible says God so loved us that He sent Jesus to pay the price for our healing (Is 53:4-6 & 1Pet 2:24). If He sent Jesus to pay such a ghastly price, would He then cancel that and put sickness on us? No. No. No. He didn't put it there and He didn't allow it. The devil is the one who tries to steal, kill and destroy—not God. If we are battling an illness in our body, it isn't because God sent it or allowed it. It is there because we haven't learned to access what God gave us the moment Jesus bore the stripes that paid for our healing. Healing is part of salvation—per the dictionaries, and per Jesus' actions and words while He was here on the earth. We need to hear this all the time. We need to hear it until we can't believe anything else—until we refuse to accept anything else.

I believe if Christians would spend their time knowing their God and what His love purchased for them, then we wouldn't have so many in the world angry with our judgment of them. Instead we might see more people clamoring to know this good God who is love.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Grace's Influence Part Two

Titus 2:11-12
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.

Wow. Did you see that? The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared (become obvious, become visible or known) to all men (humanity). This blows me away. First, the grace of God is what brings salvation, and second that it has appeared to all people. Let's focus, for now, on the first part of this verse: The grace of God that brings salvation—

We discussed what salvation means—it is what Jesus carried out for all who will accept and receive—deliverance, preservation, health and well-being. Jesus accomplished our deliverance from sin and all the results of sin in the earth. If we believe Jesus is who He said He was, and did what He said God sent Him to do—we have received salvation through faith because of grace. By grace we're saved through faith (Ephesians 2:8).

James Strong (Strong's Concordance and Dictionary) defines grace as "…especially the divine influence on the heart (of humankind) and (that influence) reflected in the life." That's what grace is, and we see in Titus 2:11 that said influence in our heart is what brings salvation.

The dictionary defines "influence" as "an emanation (springing up, source) of spiritual or moral force, the act or power of producing an effect without apparent exertion or force or direct exercise of command. The power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways. One that exerts influence. To have an effect on the condition or development of: modify, affect."

So—God influenced our heart to affect us for change—from sinner to saved and from cursed to blessed, from rebellious sinner to obedient child. When we allow grace to mix with faith in what God has said about us, then that influence begins to display and reflect the changes to those who knew us before. The people who knew me in my twenties, knew a different person. Grace has changed me. I know I am not all God intends me to be yet, but I also know He is faithful to complete the work He began in me. The point is, His influence in my heart has changed me and I reflect that change in my life. It is reflected in the words I choose (to bring life instead of devastation), it is reflected in how I treat people, it is reflected in the work I do and how I live. Life is so much better now than then!

Knowing that grace is influence, makes me want to go through all the Bible says about grace again. I counted it once; seems like that word is used more than 125 times in the New Testament. I am convinced God wants us to know His grace and all it brings to our lives.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Grace's Influence

I've been meditating on grace a lot lately. Grace is a deep subject. Paul, in his letter to the church at Ephesus, said we are saved by grace.

The Greek word translated "saved" here is sozo. It is used more than one hundred times in the New Testament. Jesus used the term often: "Daughter, your faith has made you whole." (Mt 9:22). The word "whole" is the Greek word, sozo. "The Son of man came to save that which was lost." (Mt 18:11). "The Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." (Luke 9:56). He told the blind beggar, "Receive your sight, your faith has "saved" you." (Luke 18:42). Luke tells us that the man who was possessed of devils was "healed," using the same word, sozo. We know by these examples that the word saved (sozo) means more than just saved from going to hell. We know by the examples that the health, and wholeness that this word represents is not a "someday when I get to heaven" experience. Health occurred for the blind beggar when he believed. Wholeness came to the woman with the issue of blood the moment she reached out in faith. Salvation is deliverance, preservation, health, well-being and to be made whole—and if we are to assume it works as it did when Jesus walked the earth—all that sozo is should occur when we believe.

It is by grace we are saved, through faith, says Paul (Ephesians 2:8). That tells me that grace is a major key to my salvation, so I think I should meditate on grace frequently and deeply. But do we really know what grace is? Do we really know what it means that grace has come into our lives? Do we know how to access grace? Admittedly, I still have more questions than answers, but I continue to meditate because I know God reveals to those who diligently seek. Questions don't bother God, it is indifference that bothers God.

The word Paul uses in the letter to the Ephesians, translated "grace" is the Greek word, charis. My friend, Robert Shankle, the best teacher on the effects of grace in a believer's life, taught me about grace when I was a young Christian. He taught me to use a Bible dictionary to study deeper and to get a fuller meaning of what God says. The Strong's dictionary says this about grace: charis is from a word meaning graciousness (as gratifying),
of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude). Strong's says it is especially the influence of God (divine) on/in the heart of mankind and the reflection of that influence in the life of said mankind.

This is not what I learn in church. This is not the message of grace that I hear from the pulpit. I hear that grace is a free gift from God, and I hear that because of this free gift I am forgiven of all my sins (past, present, and future). I hear that grace is God's unmerited favor—which many Christians have translated to mean they are God's favorite. Favor is one way the translators of the King James version of the Bible translated the Greek word, charis. That translation was done in the early 1600's. The point I'm trying to make is we may understand the words differently in this age than those who gave us the words.

Take, for instance, the word favor. My Merriam Webster dictionary defines favor as: Friendly regard shown toward another, esp. a superior toward an inferior. "Approving consideration or attention." But when I look at the definition for favor in my American Dictionary of the English Language composed in 1828, I see a definition for the word, favor that is almost a page long and details favor as "kind regard, support, defense, vindication, lenity, (to pardon the guilty is a favor, to punish them is an act of justice.) mildness or litigation of punishment. A gift or present." I've summarized.

So, what does it mean that we are saved by grace, through faith? What did it mean that those who experienced Jesus' favor while He walked the earth received immediate "salvation" and not a promise for a future deliverance from whatever they were suffering from? Why did grace look different then than it does now? Or have we just perceived it differently? And if we have perceived it differently, how should we understand that we are saved by grace through faith?

Robert Shankle has started a new blog where he promises to teach us about grace. This is the link to his blog: http://robertshankle.blogspot.com/

Next blog, I will go into more detail about what it means that God influences our heart.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What On Earth Would This World Think?

Luke 15:11-12, 17-20

11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
17 "When the younger son came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20 So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Today I went to church at The Way, in Fort Smith. I love the inter-active format there. We had time for praise and worship interspersed with testimony. Then Todd (Pastor) opened the discussion from the word of God. Today's discussion was about love. God is love, God has love for us and God wants us to love as He loves.

At one point, someone brought up the night Judas betrayed Jesus. In John 13:1, we read, "Jesus, knowing that his hour was come that he should leave out of this world to his Father, having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them to the end." One version says, "He showed them the full extent of His love."

Todd brought out how Jesus must have felt, to wash the feet of Judas, knowing Judas was going to betray Him, yet He bowed before him and washed his feet. The superior bowed before the inferior and washed him. It is a powerful thought—so powerful I haven't been able to forget it. In fact, it has caused my mind to roll continually with thoughts of God's generous love for us.

Jesus has the Father's heart. He said more than once, "The Father does the works." And, "I only speak what I hear from my Father." The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was the perfect reflection of His Father, God (Hebrews 1:3).

So, while I know God and Jesus magnify all we think is love, I think, while knelt before Judas, Jesus must have loved him just as surely as we love our children—even when they don't love us back. Even when they choose a way that is so different from what we have taught them. Even when they go against every bit of wisdom we've offered them. Even when they not only don't honor us, but in fact, dishonor us with their choices, words and actions. Even then, we love them. We kneel down (humble ourselves) and love them even in their dirty places—because that is what love does—that's what love looks like. Heidi Baker says, "Love looks like something." Yeah—love looks like Jesus on the night Judas betrayed Him.

And that was the beginning of the avalanche of thoughts. Because, if that is what love looks like, that is how He wants us to be with one another, isn't it? And if this is what love looks like, this is how we should be with the world around us, shouldn't we?

What would the world think if they saw us love one another this way? What would the world think if they witnessed Christians loving one another even in the dirty places? What would the world think—and how would they respond to love such as that? What depth could the Church grow to if we loved one another like Jesus loved Judas? What would the world think if we loved them enough to wash their dirty places—even while knowing they could betray us and not repent for it?

What on earth would this world think if we loved like Jesus loved?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thoughts and Prayers for Isabella Joy

Less than one month—and you will depart the warmth and comfort of your mama's womb and enter the world rich with activity and noise and love. You will leave the place where you began in love and where most of what you heard was your mama's heartbeat and voice –to hands clamoring to hold you and everyone's different idea of what you want, need or – yes – what you should do and be. Pressure. Such pressure for a tiny one!

So, my prayer for you, little girl of my Little Girl, is that you enjoy the time remaining in the peace of your mama's womb. God has said He knit you together while there. Beginning with—did you know—your hearing muscle? That is the first part of the human body that forms in the womb after conception—the hearing muscle. Isn't that interesting, Isabella? (I wonder if you, dear child, will enjoy my many bits of trivial information or if I will bore you with it? Time will tell.) The hearing muscle is the first thing to form and usually the last thing to stop living when the body dies. God intends us to hear. So, I pray for you, my baby girl, to have ears to hear what God says and the heart to follow fully after Him when you do—unafraid and unashamed. Not everyone will appreciate that prayer, but I pray it nonetheless.

Science also tells us that if we could take a mold of the shape of our inner ear, it is the exact same shape we are while in the second trimester while growing in our mother's womb. We are born to hear. Samuel's name means to hear with the intent to follow. I pray this same thing for him.

God says in His word, "before I formed you in your mother's womb, I knew you." I also pray that you never forget His voice and that you remain forever in tune with Him, just as you will be with your mama and daddy. May He speak mysteries to you, Isabella. May He speak mysteries and allow you to share His wisdom with the world around you — that the world around you may know Him too. God has said, "It is the glory (character and nature) of God to hide a matter and it is the glory (character and nature) of royalty to find it." He built us to find the mysteries He has hidden, Isabella. How exciting our God is! How fun!

I believe one of the mysteries He has hidden (but I found it!) is that the first thing He knits together while we are in the womb is the hearing muscle—so that we continue to hear Him as we did when He knew us before He placed us in our mother's womb.

God bless you little one. I love you.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why I See Christmas in Numbers 21 (Part 2)

We are talking about how we can see the purpose of Christmas in the Old Testament story of Israel's rejection of the manna God rained down from heaven for them to eat. I would like to note that the manna came early in the morning, while the people still slept. The dew came first so the manna did not connect with the earth that was cursed because of the fall of mankind. The dew came down and then the manna rested on the dew. Biblically speaking, dew is representative of God's favor and blessing. So, instead of food from the earth which is cursed, the manna rested on the opposite of cursed—favor and blessing.

But Israel complained about the manna. They called it light bread and said their souls loathed it. Then poisonous serpents—common to the area—began to bite them. The serpents had never bitten anyone before, so apparently a door was opened—a shield came down through the complaining—and allowed the venomous snakes to do what snakes naturally do.

When people began to drop dead from the serpents' bite, they asked Moses to intercede for them. He did, and God gave him the cure. Now pay attention, we are about to celebrate Christmas.

When we spell out the word serpent in the Hebrew we can see a picture developing. The Hebrew alphabet is amazing in that it also contains their numerical system and each letter paints a prophetic picture.

From right to left the first letter in the word serpent is nun. The ancient Hebrew pictograph of the letter nun is a seed. It has the meaning of continuation, progeny, and heirship. The modern Hebrew picture of nun is a fish—which is where the Christian fish symbol comes from. This fish symbol connotes the meaning of believer. This makes perfect sense because those who believe on Jesus become sons (children, progeny) of God (John 1:12). Before the fall—before Adam took the word of the serpent over the word of God—God called Adam a son (Lk 1:38).

The letter nun has the numerical value of fifty, which has a theme of freedom. The year of Jubilee is the fiftieth year and slaves are set free, debts canceled and property returns to its original owners.

The second letter of the word serpent is chet. The ancient Hebrew pictograph of this letter is a tent wall. It is what separated the female side of the tent from the male side. It was a wall of division. The modern picture of the letter chet is a fence. Both signify separation and/or division.

It is significant to me that the doorposts in Goshen (believers) had to have blood applied to the lintel (above the door) and each doorpost, which forms the letter chet if you write it out. I haven't figured out how to do that in the blog world yet. Only the doorways with the blood applied were protected from the death angel. That is why most modern Jews consider the chet the sign of life and often wear it as jewelry. The blood of the lamb on those doorposts left all Israel alive. The picture of the door or fence brought the realization of separation to a new light.

The numerical value for chet is eight, which has a theme of new beginnings. Eight people were in Noah's ark to begin new life in the earth after the flood. On the eighth day after birth, a male child (Hebrew) enters into covenant with God and is given his Hebrew name—which is kept secret until that time (tradition).

The last letter of the word serpent is the shin. Interestingly, the ancient and modern picture of shin is tooth/teeth. It is drawn as two front teeth in the ancient pictographs, representing peace and protection from the devourer. Shin represents the Guardian of Peace and one of the names God chose to reveal Himself to Abraham—Shaddai—the provider and sustainer of life. Starting to see a theme here? If you look at the shin it seems to signify a flame as it looks like flames leaping upward. The Jewish mystical tradition of the spiritual essence of shin is fire and flames. Though the two pictures seem diverse, they aren't. Teeth are used to devour and fire devours too.

The numerical value of shin is three hundred. Gideon attacked the Midianites with only three hundred men armed with flaming torches in one hand and swords in another. Samson burned the fields of his enemies by releasing three hundred foxes with torches tied to their tails. And I am reminded of the story of the Holy Spirit coming to reside with believers and people saw tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

I see vividly the story of the fall in the Hebrew writing of the word serpent. The serpent is the fence between the believer and God—the source of separation and division.

But God gave Moses the solution to the serpent problem. He told Moses to make a serpent of bronze. In the biblical world, bronze is representative of judgment. God told Moses to place the bronze serpent on the rod and lift it up so all could see it. Those who were bitten by the serpent need only to look upon the bronze serpent to live. The serpent was judged and the people were healed and regained the life the serpent stole.

Now I want you to know that in Hebrew writing that the word bronze is the exact same word as the word serpent except one letter has been added to the word. The letter tav is added to the word serpent to make it a bronze serpent. The ancient Hebrew pictograph of the tav is a cross. When the cross is added to the serpent it represents the serpent has been judged. The serpent is rendered powerless. To all who look upon the cross in belief—the serpent cannot harm.

Jesus said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up. Whoever believes in Him (Son of Man) will have eternal life. God loves all humanity in the world so much that He sent His only Son to liberate them from the curse in the world because of sin. Whoever believes in this Son that God has sent is no longer cursed or condemned, but set free (John 3:14-18).

Can you see the purpose of Christmas in this story? Can you see, like the manna, coming quietly and in a manner unexpected (what is it?), the Savior of the world came as a child in the wee hours? Jesus said, "I am the bread sent from Heaven, for the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (John 6:33-41). Jesus came to give us the life God intended for us to have. We cannot attain that life any other way. All the health food in the store will not give us that quality of life. All the organic supplements and all the prescription meds and all the physicians of the world—are lacking compared to what Jesus accomplished by coming to the earth and being lifted up to take the judgment and curse that was in the world because of sin. Now that is a Christmas story!

To sum up a few points I gained from this study:

Believers are considered (by God) to be children of God—with all the rights and privileges of heirship. (John 1:12-13).
Slaves are set free, debts are released and property is returned to the original owners. Jesus represented to us how mankind was intended to live—far above principalities and powers, sickness and disease, evil of every kind—and as He was leaving, He said, "As my Father sent me, so I send you." (John 20:21).
Christmas is about family. God called Adam His son. When Adam turned away from what God said as truth and honorable—like the prodigal son in the parable Jesus told—God did not write him off, but rather waited for him to realize his "missing the mark," (which is what sin is) and sent Jesus to show us all the way back to being the family of God. We all descend from Adam. The Bible calls Jesus the last Adam, because He came to show us the way back home—to the heart of God.

The Angels said it best, "Peace on earth and (God's) goodwill toward mankind." Merry Christmas to all and may the light of the world shine brightly in each heart.