Proclaiming a Message of Good News and Hope to our generation!

Month: March 2020

Freedom!

First the Kingdom part 31, “Freedom”
Today’s topic has long been a favorite of mine. I grew up in the sixties, when many young people were seeking freedom from the constraints of society. The civil rights movement, and the Vietnam war was largely in the news and pressing on our minds. The pressure to get a job and find a career also was one more thing to infringe upon a young persons sense of freedom. All of this gave birth to the hippy movement with its search for freedom of thought and action, expressed powerfully in the music of that time.

While all of this appealed to me back then, it was not long until I realized the search for freedom can become a trap and form of bondage in itself. It was at this point that I cried out to God and finally found the freedom that I really and truly needed the most.

The thread of this topic goes all the way back to the beginning. Adam and Eve in the garden knew freedom as it had not been known since before the fall. And yet, they had one restriction placed upon them. That one restriction must have weighed on their minds and distracted them from what they already could so easily and freely enjoy at the hand of their Creator.

Think of it! They had the very priviledge of walking and talking with God in the cool of the day! And yet they were not truly free internally. They wanted their independance from their Creator, to decide for themselves what was good or evil, right or wrong. This led to the loss of their external freedom in a sense as they were thrust out of Paradise.

The pursuit of freedom to fulfill our own fleshly desires has always brought us to bondage in the end. Yet God in His great love for His creation has always had a plan. He chose Noah to preserve the human race from the judgment of the great flood. He chose Abraham to begin a great family of faithful believers through whom He would teach the world of His ways.

When they found themselves under the oppression of Egypt, they cried out unto the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He raised up Moses to deliver them, and through mighty signs, wonders and miracles freed them from slavery. Yet, even as he was leading them out of Egypt it was discovered that much of Egypt was still in them!

After 40 years a new generation would take on the task of conquering the Land of Promise. Jehovah had intended for this nation to become a kingdom of priests, but the majority rejected this priviledge, which was accepted by the tribe of Levi. He also wanted to be their King, but they wanted an earthly king instead. The true freedom of living fully in the Kingdom of Heaven would be a long way off.

By the time of the New Testament, they had been conquered and occupied by Babylon, Greece and finally Rome. But many continued to cling to the promises from God through His prophets, that a glorious time would come, where all nations would look to them to be taught the wonderful ways of their God. In Nebukanezzers dream, it was revealed to Daniel that the power of all previous kingdoms would be destroyed by their Messiah, depicted as a Great Rock descending from the Mountain of God!

From this they envisioned a great military leader who would crush the power of their oppressors, not a humble Lamb who would offer His Life for their sins. When the angel told Joseph of Christ’s birth, he said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”

Then Jesus began His public ministry. Instead of raising an army, He urgently called for  the people to repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. This was the very same Kingdom that Daniel referred too when He said, “In the days of these kings, the God of Heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed!”

However, His description of this Kingdom was not like what most had pictured in their minds. In His primary claim of fulfilling the scriptures, He read from Isaiah 61:1-2.

(Luke 4:14-21:)
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  NIV

In Leviticus 25 we are told that every 50th year was to be a time of restoration and freedom, known as the year of Jubilee. The inscription on our Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is a reference to this year as written in Leviticus 25:10:
“proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”

We don’t know how many times in the history of Israel this year was observed, but by the time of Christ it must have been long overdue! In any case, the people in His home town were outraged by His claiming to be the Messiah and that He would be the one to declare the year of jubilee!

He would continue to describe a Kingdom that was not like any other kingdom. Its rulers would be servants, rather than lords. It would be a realm where compassion and love ruled. It was one that you could not even tell when and from where it was coming. It would be a domain where God would change stony hearts into warm and tender hearts. He would write His laws into their hearts and minds, and all would know Him!

He did not just come to save His people from Rome, but to save them from their sins. The freedom that He came to bring was true freedom for them to live as God had planned for them from the beginning. In fact, the root word for His Name in Hebrew actually means, “to be open and free.”

God cares for the whole person, spirit, soul and body. He also cares about our physical circumstances, but the freedom He brings starts inside of us. We are truly changed from the inside out. This becomes evident as our circumstances often change because of changes in our behavior. The law of love that is written on our hearts and minds guides us in our decisions, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to follow through with those decisions!

John 8:31-32:
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  NIV

So hearing, receiving, understanding and following the truth is critical to obtaining and maintaining freedom. Is it possible to be a Christian and have your sins forgiven, but still not live the full, abundant life and in the fulness of the freedom that Christ has brought us?  It would seem so. As believers our justification is finished, but our sanctification is on going.

While it is crucial for us to believe Jesus when He said that the time for the kingdom had come, it is equally important to believe Him when He said there is more to come!  We are being changed from glory to glory!

Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians of this battle we are waging against evil. He also wrote this in his letter to the Galatians:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

While people at that time were trying to bring them under the law of circumcision, I would suggest that a great number of things are attempting to enslave us today!

He continues, Galatians 5:13-26:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”   If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. NIV

The Thread of Freedom runs through the entire bible, beginning in Genesis
The great struggle against slavery is depicted in Exodus, with Moses leading his people to freedom
The freedom won by Moses was difficult to maintain, as the people were often unfaithful to God
Jesus came to win the final victory over the source of bondage — sin!
In the New Covenant we are free by the grace of God working from the inside out.

We are called to stand in His freedom by living and walking in the Spirit of God, bearing His fruits!

So hear we are, living, growing and learning of Him, being encouraged by these words of Paul:

Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.  NIV
This is Kingdom life, this is true freedom!

And yet, there is one more point on standing fast in the Freedom that Christ has won for us: I personally have found that my freedom is related to the freedom of others. One of the best proofs we are truly living and walking in the Spirit is found in our concern for the freedom of others.
True freedom is experienced as we share the love of God with others!

The Body, Being Light In Darkness

 

An excerpt from Charles Colson’s “The Body, Being Light In Darkness.”

Chapter 16:
In some ways, the story began in the town of Nowa Huta, Poland soon after World War II…..

“We need a church,” the workers said, “A place of worship.”…..

The Communists bought time, however, by nodding agreeably, “Fine, they said, “No problem.”

So several young Christians and a Polish priest nailed together two rugged beams and pounded the rough timber cross straight and solid into Polish soil to mark the site where their chapel would be built.

Soon, however, the authorities returned with a different verdict. “We are sorry,” they told the workers. “This space is needed for something else. You cannot build a church here.”

But the people wanted their church. Night after night they gathered around the cross. Priests offered mass, and the people sang and celebrated communion with one another and their Lord.

The authorities retaliated with water cannons, but this forceful baptism didn’t faze the faithful. Then the Communists tore down the cross, as if sundering its heavy beams would somehow cleave the people. But the citizens of Nowa Huta were determined, and in the morning the cross was once again stretching toward heaven for all to see.

This went on for years—the authorities tearing down the cross and the people restoring it. And in the midst of the struggle the people came to a realization that would steel their faith in a way that Communism could never steal their souls.

“The church is not a building,” they said to one another. “The church is us, celebrating the presence of our Lord among us! Praise be to God!”

Face to Face!

First the Kingdom Part 30: Face to Face

Luke’s record in the “Acts of the Apostles” gives us an exciting portrait of the faith of the earliest Christians. Among the many characteristics of these ordinary people and their extraordinary faith, there is one thing that the apostles in Acts had in common: They had all been with Jesus!

The significance of this cannot be overstated. In fact this entire series on the Kingdom of God ultimately centers on the truth that the Kingdom of God appeared on the earth in the presence of Jesus Himself! No one could come into His presence and not be changed in one way or the other. Those who received Him as their Lord and Messiah were given citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven and an entrance into the family of God!

He began with 12 ordinary men from various walks of life. They lived with Him, listened to Him, watched Him and learned from Him what it meant to be the people of God. His time with them equipped them and educated them more effectively than we could possibly imagine.

The apostle John wonderfully captured this thought in a letter to his fellow believers:

In 1 John 1:1-4 he writes:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life ;  (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)

That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.

And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full. (KJV)

Yes, the apostles and others in Acts had this one thing in common, they had been with Jesus. Peter, James and John had an additional experience in common, together they saw his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.

John referred to this when he wrote “we beheld His glory,” and Peter in one of his letters wrote:

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. (NKJV)

(John 1:14-15, 2 Peter 1:16-18)

While Adam hid his face from God, others, like Jabez, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and the prophets, sought his face and were changed.

It might seem that such a meeting with the Creator and Lord of the universe is reserved for a chosen few. However, God has actually revealed through these special messengers that He desires that special relationship with many more!

Abraham is known as the Father of the faithful today. His son Isaac, His grandson Jacob, and Jacob’s 12 sons were all given the special privilege of inheriting the promises given to Abraham. The 12 sons became 12 tribes and greatly increased in number, but God’s desire to bless them had not diminished. After delivering them from slavery in Egypt he called them to Mount Sinai to hear from Him and to become a kingdom of priests. Even though their fears hindered them from responding, He gave these words for those who did accept the priestly calling to speak over them.

Numbers 6:22-27:

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”‘

“So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”  (NKJV)

When I was very young I noticed how it seemed so normal in the Bible for God to speak with Adam and Eve as we talk to each other today. Even after sin entered into the picture and paradise was lost, God still spoke to Noah, then Abraham, then Moses and many others in what seemed to be an audible voice. As time when on, this experience became very rare. It was not because of God’s inability to speak, or in the inability of the people to hear sound.

The distance between God and His people was in their hearts. Their hearts and minds became increasingly darkened by deception, fear, rebellion and disobedience. All they had left were the words written down by Moses and the special messages from the holy prophets which would later be committed to writing. Today we thank God that he has spoken and still speaks to us through these sacred writings. But have we forgotten how to listen to His Voice in the midst?

Jesus came to clear away the haze and confusion, and even to destroy the barrier between God and humanity. His message, His teaching, His patience and love, His miracles all expressed His desire for a face-to-face encounter with us! The grand climax in His suffering on the Cross for our sins, and His marvelous victory over death was the final proof of the great lengths our Lord and Savior would go for a relationship with us.

All that is left is for us to trust and believe in Him and receive the great gift He is offering to us – His very Self!

But alas! Even though every lie that Satan has pressed upon the world has been exposed, the human race continues so often in the same pattern of self-reliance and self-deception. These are the days of gallant battle and overcoming for those who have believed and do know Him. They are constantly tested by the unyielding rejection from the world around them and even from those they dearly love.

That is why John and Peter so firmly testified of what they had seen and heard. That is why they and countless others over the centuries gave their lives as evidence of a faith that could not be destroyed. That is also why Paul prayed for every believer to have a face-to-face encounter with the risen Christ even as he had!

No we are not talking about identical experiences like the transfiguration that Peter, James and John witnessed, or the vision that Paul received on the road to Damascas. But we are talking about the revelation of Jesus Christ!

In Ephesians 1:17-20 Paul prayed:

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,

And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, (KJV)

It was Paul’s prayer that the believers in Ephesis would know Christ and His work on our behalf more deeply. He knew when their eyes were opened to greater insight into His wisdom that they too would be changed from the inside out! Later, in that same letter he added this prayer:

Ephesians 3:14-19:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (NKJV)

In another letter, Paul wrote of Moses and his face-to-face encounter with God on Mount Sinai. This encounter actually caused his face to glow to the extent the people were afraid to come near him. So he wore a veil over his face for their sake.

Paul used this story as an analogy to describe the situation of his day. He realized that many were reading the words of God in the Bible as it were behind a veil. People were still afraid to meet God in His word because their hearts were stubborn and hardened. Jesus explained that the pure and humble of heart were blessed, for they could truly see God!

Therefor there was hope for one whose heart turns to Jesus Christ. In Him that veil is removed from the mind and Christ can now be seen as the true message of the Bible!

To this day I cannot say that I have heard an audible voice from God, and yet He does speak to me as often as I am willing to listen. He has found my attention often through unpleasant circumstances which caused me to see how foolish I have been at times. He has also reached out to me through the kindness of others. It was always the work of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that Paul believed could open the understanding of his people. Others prayed for me also, and when I was finally willing to humble myself before Christ, He removed that veil that kept me in darkness for so long.

We today can have face-to-face encounters with God in many ways. We can meet Him in quiet moments of prayer and meditation. So often I can see His face as I gather with others who know and love Him. When we gather in His Name, He is in our midst!

The Bible is truly a wonderful place to find His presence, His nature, His power and His wisdom for every day life. This is what Paul meant when he wrote:

2 Corinthian 3:12-18:

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (NIV)

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