God Gave His Son; God Gave Himself

John 3:16 (NKJV) 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

In my last post we talked about using the last few days of 2015 to evaluate where we are in our Christianity and to ask some questions about what we might need to do in order to make next year better than this year. We took our direction from Paul’s words in Philippians 3 where he said he did not dwell on the past but instead pressed into the future. That does not mean we do not learn from the past. It means we cannot live in either our successes or failures from the past. Doing either will keep us from making the changes and receiving the encouragement we need to go forward.

Today I want to look at the gift that God gave to us at Christmas. This is one thing we need to think about this week that will help us prepare for the coming year. The scripture I am using is one of the most familiar and beloved verses in the bible. Although we usually do not associate it with Christmas, it really is about the essence of the truth of Christmas.

What is the real gift of Christmas? What is the gift God gave to the World when he gave it Jesus? Jesus tells us in this famous verse. He gave his only begotten son. The amplified calls Jesus God’s unique son. God had no one else like him.

Many have a problem with the virgin birth. This description of Jesus is a direct reference to that reality. Jesus was the only human being ever born in such a way that he could be called the unique son of God. Peter tells us how he was conceived by telling us how the new birth works.

1 Peter 1:23 (NKJV) 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,

When we received Jesus, we were born again. Paul says we became a New Creation in Christ. The seed that caused the new birth in us is the same seed that fertilized the egg in Mary’s womb. It was the Word of God.

Jesus was the unique or only begotten son of God because he was conceived by a supernatural seed, the Word of God. This angel said that Mary was “of child by the Holy Ghost.” The Holy Spirit and the Word of God interacted with her physical body and a child was produced. This child was both fully human and fully divine. There had never been one like him and there never would be another like him.

I am a father. There is nothing more precious to my wife and me than our children. True parents would much rather go through difficulties than see their children go through them. We would much rather give our own lives than that of our children. God is no different.

When this verse tells us that God gave his only begotten son, it is telling us that he gave the most precious thing he had and that he gave it for a world who did not know him and did not appreciate what he really is. Jesus was his only child at that time. He had no guarantee that anyone would receive his gift and be “born again” making them sons and daughters as well. He sowed the only one he had in faith believing there would be many more to come.

Romans 8:29 (NKJV) 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

As I think of how this relates to me and to the new year, I have to ask myself, “Am I giving my best for the Kingdom of God?” God did not hold back his best even though he had no guarantee beyond his faith that anything good would come of it. Am I giving my best to the Lord even if I have no guarantee, except my faith, that anything good will come to me because of my gift?

I cannot tell you what that question means in your life. I can only evaluate my own answer. I do encourage you to meditate on God’s gift to you and ask yourself if your gift to Him and his kingdom measures up to that standard. I am not just talking about our wealth, although that can be part of it. I am talking about our time, our gifts, our emotional treasure and all the things that are truly important to us. God did not withhold his best, help us to let go of ours.

Let me tell you before you start that your gift does not equal his. Do not be condemned when you realize how far short you are falling from what God did for you. That is inevitable. He is God and you are not. What you should do is ask him to help you be more like him. You can begin to give more of what is precious to you and worry less about what you will get in return. Just trust him and you will not be disappointed. That I can guarantee because the more you give to him the more of him you will receive.

There is something else that he gave. He gave himself. Jesus said, “I and my father are one.” (John 10:30) This is something that can be hard to understand and has spawned many heated debates in the church world. What is not open to debate is what Jesus said. He and the Father are one. That means that when God gave Jesus, he gave himself.

As an adult, I have always thought of Christmas in terms of what I could give to those I love, not in terms of what I will receive. This has put pressure on me because anything less than what my kids really want is just not satisfactory to me. As children grow, what they really want becomes very expensive. As I was looking at this verse, I was reminded that the best gift I ever gave my children was myself. I believe if you asked any one of the six they would agree with me.

God did not stop with what was most precious to him. He gave himself as well. I believe this is another thing we need to look at as we begin the new year. As parents we want to give our children nice things. We want to give them education to prepare them for a better life than we had. We want to give them health, stability and security. All those things are valid. However, do not forget to give them the gift of your time, your attention and your love. That is more important than any of the rest.

This year, for the first time, we did not have the Christmas morning chaos in my living room. We went to one of my children’s houses. (The one with the youngest kids since they are the most fun!) Our tradition is that we read the Christmas story before we open any gifts. I think the Lord was helping me transition as my son-in-law said he had a headache and asked me to read. I did it gladly, but I made him pray. It is far more important that his children see him pray than that they get the wonderful gifts he provided. That is giving yourself.

What about the local church? I encourage you to give your money. However, Paul told Timothy to tell those that were rich not to stop with money (1 Tim. 6:17-18.) He said to encourage them to give their service and time as well. We need to give ourselves to the local church.

Finally, what about the world? There are all kinds of programs and plans available to reach out for Jesus. It is very popular now to make sure our churches are equipped to handle those who may not understand our Christian ways. That is a good thing but the most important thing you can give those around you is like the gift God gave at Christmas. He gave himself. You can give them yourself. That is what God did and that is how we will reach the world for Jesus.

John 17:18 (NKJV) 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.

Remember, Forget and Lay Hold

Philippians 3:12-13 (NKJV) 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,

Once again we find ourselves in that no man’s land between Christmas and New Year. It is still the holiday season but the excitement of Christmas is past and New Year’s celebrations do not hold the same anticipation as Christmas for most of us.

I believe this is a good time to take stock of last year. For most of us it has been a mixed bag. Some good things and some bad things happened. That said, it was not 2014 it was 2015. It had its own challenges and its own victories. It is a good time to ask, “What did I do right? What could have been better? What kept me from being all God wants me to be?” Asking these questions honestly can be a valuable tool to progress in 2016.

In today’s scripture, Paul gives us some good advice. He tells us to forget what is behind and reach for the Goals of today. That does not mean we do not learn from last year. As I said we must ask some questions of ourselves. We must learn from mistakes and build on the positives. However, what we cannot do is get too focused on either the negative or the positive. We must recognize that this is a New opportunity to walk in the destiny God created for each one of us.

If we focus on our failures, we will fall into condemnation. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Once I got born again, I was no longer subject to condemnation. That does not mean it will never come to us. On the contrary it always comes to us. The devil is faithful to make sure we feel condemned. We have to realize that the voice of condemnation does not come from God and is not part of how God deals with us. We have the right and authority to reject that voice.

If we focus too much on the success of the past, we can become immune to the voice God does use to correct us and bring us higher in him. That is the voice of conviction. Conviction is designed by God to bring us higher and cause us to grow in our relationship with him. It enables us to build on the successes we have had and correct the things that hold us back.

There is a great deal of similarity in these two voices and yet they are completely different. Condemnation focuses on you and your fault. It implies that there something fundamentally wrong with you. It presses you that you will never get any better. It uses the words always and never to describe you and your circumstances. “You always make that same mistake. You will never change.” These words should be red flags to you. Used in this fashion they never come from your loving Father.”

Conviction, on the other hand, is God calling you closer to himself. It focuses on what you can be and things you may need to do or change to get there. The Greek word comes from the same root as the word Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit in John. The Holy Spirit is the “one called alongside to help. Conviction is “a calling alongside.” It is God calling you closer to himself. As you get closer to him you will be able to overcome what you need to overcome. You will change what you need to change. Conviction builds where condemnation tears down.

What Paul says in this verse is that he lays hold of that for which God laid hold of him. When I teach on this verse I like to get two strong young men up on the platform with me. I tell one of them to take hold of my arm. I tell the other to grab the first subjects other arm and pull us apart. It is usually not too hard to do.

I then tell subject number 1 to take hold of my arm again but at the same time I grab hold of his arm. Once again subject two tries to pull us apart. He finds it is almost impossible to do. The illustration shows that when I take hold along with God, nothing can separate me from his purpose in my life.

God has taken hold of you for a purpose. He is doing all he can to bring you into that purpose and destiny. However, if we will not lay hold of that for which Jesus laid hold of us, we will find that the devil will steal that which God desires to give us.

As you evaluate 2015 and prepare for 2016, make a decision that you are going to lay hold of your destiny in God. That means you are going to set some priorities. You are going to ask some questions of yourself like, “Am I as committed to God as he is to me?” Remember, God is not condemning you so you should not condemn yourself. You are evaluating. You are using the past to embrace the future. You are not living there.

The forgetting part comes next in this scripture. He forgets so he can press on. If we never learn from our past, we cannot grow. If we take no encouragement from the good things, we will become discouraged and we will not press on. However, if we dwell too much on either good or bad, we will not go forward. Paul encourages us to go forward.

Here is a revelation for you. 2015 is over. All the bad things that could happen in 2015 have happened. They will never again happen in 2015. All the good things you accomplished are just memories now. You cannot live on them in 2016. Remember them. Be encouraged by them. Be corrected where necessary, but 2015 is gone. It cannot be lived again.

Paul says I press on in the King James Version. To what does he press on? He presses on to the high calling in Christ Jesus. You have a high calling in Christ for 2016. You may ask, “What is it?” I do not know. You may not know but the Lord does know. He will tell you what you need to know when you need to know it. Right now the important thing is to do what Paul did and press into that high calling.

How do we do that. First, we must believe it is there. What calling is, is not nearly as important as the fact of its existence. Second, let the Holy Spirit show you what you need to do in 2016 in order to get there. Let conviction come but reject condemnation. Be willing to make changes. God said something to me once that I have had a bit of difficulty walking in. He said, “Changes are coming and you are not going to like some of them. However, if nothing changes, nothing changes.”

That has proven very true. I do not like some of the changes that came in 2015 but they came. 2016 will be no different. Nevertheless, because they came I can lay hold of the things God has for me in the future. I press on to that high calling. I cannot redo the past. I can make the best of the future!

Decide that this is going to be a year where you press on to the high calling God has for you in Christ. Believe in that calling and let the Holy Spirit bring the changes necessary to get to them. You will not regret it.

An Offering of Righteousness Pleasant to the Lord

Malachi 3:3-4 (NKJV) 3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness. 4 “Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem Will be pleasant to the LORD, As in the days of old, As in former years.

We have been looking at the idea of the Lord coming to us from Malachi 3:1-4. Christmas is a celebration of the Lord coming to the earth as a human being. We rightly focus on the facts of Jesus’ birth at Christmas but the real thing we celebrate is that God came to his people.

I believe we live in a day of visitation for the body of Christ. I also believe that God will come to any one of us individually whenever we need him. Malachi tells us the characteristics and effects of his coming. We have looked at the characteristics so far. We have learned that his coming is sudden. When he moves things will happen quickly and in ways that we do not expect.

We also found that many cannot endure the day of his coming because when he comes to us there must be changes. He comes as a refining fire. The purpose of the refining process is to remove impurities. When the Lord visits us, he will work in us to remove the impurities that keep us from being the people he needs us to be.

He also comes as a launderer’s soap. I believe the refiner deals with the inward things that cause us to fall short of God’s best. The Launderer cleans up the outward things in our lives. He deals with the bad habits and wrong choices we are making. The point in both cases is to produce in us the kind of person who can cooperate with and be used in a visitation of God.

Malachi 3 not only shows us the characteristics of a time when God comes to his people, it also tells us what his people will look like in such a visitation. What are the effects of a visitation on the people of God? The first thing we see is in verse 3. The result is that we will be able to offer an offering of righteousness to the Lord.

Biblical righteousness has two components. The first component is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

We have been made righteous, or right with God, by what Jesus did on the cross. We can do nothing to obtain this righteousness. It is a gift of God based in our covenant relationship in Christ Jesus. The only thing we must do is believe that what he did worked and accept by faith that we are right with God. This is positional righteousness.

There are some who say that positional righteousness is all there is. They would say that our behavior is irrelevant because of what Jesus did. That is true in terms of our position, however Jesus said that we should seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. You cannot read Paul’s letters without coming to the conclusion that righteous behavior is also important. Our behavior is our vital righteousness.

If we do not first accept our position as right with God by what Jesus did, our behavior will not make us right with him. However, if we do accept positional righteousness, our behavior will enable us to access the full benefits of our position. We are not earning right standing with God by behavior. We are accessing what is ours by faith.

Think of it this way. If I have $1000.00 in the bank it is mine. If I never get it out of the bank it will not benefit me. There are rules and procedures as to how I get it out. If I go with a gun and demand my money, the result will be my arrest. It will not facilitate getting my money it will make it nearly impossible to obtain the benefits of what is already minie. If I just write my account number on a bank slip and provide my identification, I get my money with no problem at all.

Positional righteousness is in the bank. It is mine right now. Nevertheless, if I do not act according to my position I give the enemy the power to block the benefits of my position. When I allow positional righteousness to determine my behavior, becoming vital righteousness, I can freely access all that God has for me.

When God comes to his people he comes as the refiner’s fire and launderer’s soap, he is enabling us to translate positional righteousness into vital righteousness. The result is that our offerings become offerings of righteousness. They are born of the understanding of our position and made unassailable by our vital righteousness or behavior.

What are the offerings of which the prophet speaks? They are any and all the offerings we give to the Lord. They are the offerings of praise and worship to God. They are the offerings of giving. They are the offerings of service. Most important it is the offering of our lives to the Lord who saved us.

Verse 4 tells us another effect of the coming of the Lord. This also involves the offerings we make. He says they will be “pleasant to the Lord as in the days of old and in former years.” When God comes to us and does his work in us the emphasis of the offerings listed above will be that they be pleasing to the Lord.

When we are living in times between visitations, the offerings of God’s people tend to become more focused on what pleases us. We ask, “What about me? What about my life?” This manifests clearly in praise and worship. The style of music becomes very important. We get upset if the worship team sings songs we do not like or play in a style that we do not see as “spiritual.” When God visits his people all of that goes by the wayside. We sing what blesses the Lord and brings his presence. I believe that when that is our attitude any style or any song, as long as it glorifies God, will be blessing to us as well as to the Lord.

There is far too much “me” in the church today. There are plans and programs designed to bring about church growth that focus on making sure the “seeker” is comfortable. There are philosophies that emphasize “cutting edge” practice, music and technology. None of this is wrong in itself except that it deals in offerings that are pleasant to people. When he comes to us our offerings will be focused on being pleasant to the Lord.

This does not mean we should not be “cutting edge” or that we should not be sensitive to those who do not understand christian ways. It does mean that our first priority should be offerings that are pleasing to God even if they do not seem to be what others may call cutting edge or seeker sensitive. If we are “God’s pleasure” sensitive, all the rest will fall into place.

Some of my younger friends may cringe at the latter half of verse 4. They may think the Lord is telling them that nothing should change. They may hear things like, “If it was good enough for Grandpa it is good enough for you!” That is not what the prophet is saying. He is saying that there are characteristics and effects common to any time the Lord visits his people. We must desire those characteristics in our lives and those effects in our ministry. If we do not, we will miss our visitation in favor of the newest practices and ideas.

How does this relate to Christmas? The incarnation of God as a baby in Nazareth was the most important coming of the Lord in history. It produced all the characteristics and effects we see in Malachi. As we celebrate this year, let us pray for our generation’s “coming of the Lord to his people.” We can believe for the refiner and the launderer to come to us. We can be ready for him when he comes. We can begin to walk in our righteous position now and we can choose to make our offerings pleasing to God above all else. We can use Christmas to make these choices for all of the new year and beyond.

Who Can Endure the Day of His Coming

Malachi 3:2-3 (NKJV) 2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness.

This week we have been looking at the coming of the Lord. Christmas is a celebration of God coming to earth in the flesh as a baby. However, God has come to his people many times in many ways. When his people need him, he comes to them. I believe he is coming to his church right now in a special way. I also believe he will come to you in your time of need.

Malachi speaks of his coming to Israel. The fact that the prophet includes the idea of a forerunner in verse 1 tells me that he is speaking of the coming of the Messiah at Christmas. I also believe that this chapter gives us some insight into the nature and effects of any time the Lord comes to us.

In verse one we learned that the Lord will come suddenly to his temple. In the New Testament, we are his temple. The word suddenly means quickly or unexpectedly. The birth of Jesus took thousands of years of preparation on God’s part. When the time came for him to be born it happened very quickly. It also happened in a way that no one could have suspected. Who would think of the King of Kings being born in such humble circumstances.

When the Lord comes to us, things will happen quickly. We may have been waiting for a long time, but the actual manifestation of what God wants to do will be sudden in nature. It will also be unexpected. God will do what he does in ways you could never expect.

Today let us look at the second verse. The question the prophet askes here is very interesting. In verse one he says that it is “the Lord whom you seek” that is coming. Yet in verse two he asks, “who can endure it when he comes.” What is he saying?

We must understand that when the Lord comes to us things have to change. There were many in Israel at the time of the coming of Jesus who could not endure his coming. They were so put off by what Jesus brought that they had him crucified. When he visits us, there may be things that we will not like about his coming. We must realize that whatever he brings is for our good not to harm us. Let us look more closely at why it is hard for some to endure the day of his coming. Verse two says he sits as a refiner’s fire and a launders’ soap.

When precious metals are brought out of the ground they are full of impurities. In order to get the best out of them they go through a refining process. They are put into a vessel and subjected to extreme heat. This heat melts the metal. As it melts, all of the impurities come to the surface while the quality gold or silver falls to the bottom. The refiner then scoops off the impurities so that all that is left are the pure precious metals.

When the Lord comes to us, one of the first things he does is melt us in his presence. This means that we must become pliable and yielding to his presence. This can be difficult. It brings us to a point of vulnerability and it will result in the impurities of our lives floating to the surface. At first blush this seems a very difficult thing but if we understand it properly it really is not.

We may not like the impurities we see. However, the refiners fire causes them to float to the surface of our lives so that the refiner can scoop them away. It is not just our own discipline or hard work that will purify us. It is the refiner himself. The fire is to make things easier for us not harder.

The problem arises when we resist the process. Gold and silver have a set melting point. Sometimes you and I resist the work of the Holy Spirit. When that happens our melting point goes higher. He will apply as much heat as necessary in order to melt our hearts so he can complete the process. It is possible to resist him to the point where we refuse to melt. If that is the case, he will not be able to remove the impurities. If he cannot remove the impurities, it is likely that he will not use us and we will miss our visitation.

The refiners fire is coming but do not focus on the burning. Focus on what is produced. When God is through refining us, all that is left is the purity of who he wants us to be. It can be a difficult process but it is always worth it in the end. God wants you and I to be ready to fulfill our destiny in the day of his coming to our lives.

I believe the refiner deals with the inward. We have been born again in spirit but Paul tells us full transformation requires the renewing of our minds. The refining fire is part of that process. This verse also mentions the launderer’s or fuller’s soap. What is the purpose of the soap?

The soap washes away the outward contamination of the world. Before a doctor does surgery he must “scrub up” with some very harsh soap. He cannot afford to have any contamination on his hands when he operates because it will cause infection in the body. The “launderer’s soap is the action of the word of God to clean up the outward contamination of the world. God cannot allow any contamination to be present when he comes to us. (Eph. 5:25-27)

What kind of contamination are we talking about? We are talking about anything that compromises our holiness before God. There are times when we are living between “comings.” Israel lived 400 years between the last prophetic book of the Old Testament and the coming of Jesus. That did not mean God was inactive or not present. However, when Jesus came something different began.

God has visited his people many times since the beginning of the church age. There have been moves of God when everything changed. There have also been extended periods where there was no special visitation. God is still with us. Faith will always work and God will always move for his people. Nevertheless, when there is a “coming” the requirements get a little more strict. Things that were accepted before may not be acceptable now.

Think of it this way. We have our everyday cloths and everyday cleanliness. However, if we are going to meet someone special we put on our dress cloths. We make sure we are as clean as we can be. We shave if we are men and make sure our makeup is just right if we are women. We prepare for their “coming.” It is the same with the coming of the Lord.

All of this is so that we can receive the full benefit of his visitation for our generation. There has not been a time in my life when both the world and the church needed a visitation from the Lord more than today. Let us be ready to be purified and cleaned so that we may endure the day of his coming. Enduring will release enjoying.

I believe this is going to be a great day for the body of Christ. Come Holy Spirit and do what you need to do so we will be ready!

He Will Come Suddenly

Malachi 3:1 (NKJV) 1 “Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts.

In yesterday’s post we began looking at Malachi 3 starting with verse 1. This relates to the Christmas season in that it is speaking of the coming of the Lord. Christmas is a celebration of the most significant coming of the Lord to date. As we looked through the scriptures we found that the Lord always came to his people in their times of greatest need.

We pointed out 3 of these “comings” in the Old Testament. God came to Adam and Eve in the Garden. God came to Abraham to offer him the covenant. God came to Israel via Moses to deliver them from Egyptian bondage. All of these incidents were times when God’s people were in great need. In each one God came to them, they did not go to God.

We must come to him, of course. However, there are many times when he takes the initiative and comes to us. When God’s people have no power, the Lord comes in power. This is particularly true in times of great historical significance for God’s children.

The final “coming of the Lord” we looked at yesterday was when Jesus came to earth in the form of a baby. We listed a number of scriptures from the Gospels that declare that God had come to the earth as the savior. The family of God was without any way to have a real relationship with their Father except through the law. God wants a family. A family is not governed by law; it is governed by relationship.

In Malachi, we see certain characteristics that are always present when the Lord comes to his people. It is evident by this verse that this is a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. He says, “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way for me.” There is a consistent prophetic theme in the Old Testament that God will send a messenger before the Messiah comes. We know him as John the Baptist.

Verse 1 also says that it is the Lord “whom you seek” is the one who actually visits the temple. The Lord is not the forerunner. This can only be speaking of the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah here spoken of is Jesus, born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem.

Though I believe this is a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, we have seen that the Lord often came to his people. I believe he wants to come to us today. I believe that we are at the beginning of a visitation not unlike the coming of Moses or the Messiah. These are historic days and the church, God’s people, have no natural power to overcome the challenges before us. God is coming to his temple. What are the characteristics of this coming? How do we recognize it?

The first characteristic we see is in verse one. He will come suddenly. This word means quickly or unexpectedly. The coming of Jesus does not seem to be either but from the perspective of those living in his day it was both.

God prepared the coming of Jesus for thousands of years. There were many Old Testament prophecies concerning him. However, when he actually came it was suddenly. It had been four hundred years since God had said anything prophetically. The Old Testament was written. There was nothing new happening. Everything was as it had been for centuries. The people of Israel were under the rule of Rome. They had no power to overcome that. The only channel God had into humanity had become legalistic and ritualistic. There was no room for relationship. Man’s need was great.

There were a very few people who understood that something was going to happen. Two elderly saints were in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to be circumcised. They knew who he was but they were part of a small minority. Israel had a vague hope that a Messiah was to come someday, but it did not seem that this would be the day.

Suddenly, there is a flurry of angelic activity. Elizabeth becomes pregnant with John, later known as the Baptist. The announcement is made to Mary that she is to give birth to a boy who would have no earthly father. The Lord speaks to Joseph in a dream that he is to accept his brides condition as from the Lord. Upon Jesus’ birth angels appear to the shepherds announcing that the Messiah has come. Sometimes we think these things were commonplace in the ancient world but it had been four hundred years since anything like this had happened.

That brings us to the second aspect of the definition of this word. He came unexpectedly. It does seem that there was a certain “buzz” about the Messiah in the world at that time. Yet no one expected a baby to be born in a manger. They expected a king to be revealed to them who would lead them to great victories. After all, the Messiah was to be the son of David and a prophet like Moses. Both of them led Israel out of bondage into times of great power. A baby born to a humble family was not what they expected.

Even though there was a sense of anticipation in Israel, most of them were like most of the people in the church today. They did not expect Jesus to come when and how he did.

We live in a day of great turmoil and upheaval. None of us know what will happen in the next number of years. I have no idea what kind of world my grandchildren will inherit let alone my great grandchildren. I believe that God must come to us again. However, I am not sure what to expect. I believe his coming will be in ways and at times that we do not expect just as the coming of Jesus did not fit with the image the Israelites had of the Messiah.

There are things we can do to facilitate God’s coming to our lives and circumstances. We can build the Word of God into our hearts. We can spend time in prayer, fellowship with the Lord and worship. We can make sure our lives are in line the principles he gives us to live by. Having done those things, I believe real visitations are both quick and usually unexpected.

We sometimes pray and believe for a long time concerning certain things in life. When they finally happen they happen quickly and usually in a way we did not expect. They happen suddenly. The coming of Jesus had been thousands of years in the making but when it happened, it happened quickly and in a way that was completely unexpected.

Do you have a promise from God that you are believing? Does it seem that you have been waiting a long time? When it happens, it will come together quickly and in a way you did not expect. What we must do is keep believing, keep being faithful and keep building the Word of God in our lives.

Think of Abraham. He had the promise of God from the time he left Ur of the Chaldees. He had the covenant promise of a child since he was 75 years old. Suddenly Sarah, who was barren here whole life, was pregnant. After all those years of waiting, in 9 short months the answer was born. Could he have ever expected that a 100-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman would have a baby?

Expect God to do something unexpected in your life. You may have believed for a long time and it may seem that nothing is possible, but it will happen and it will happen quickly and in unexpected ways when it does.

Behold! He is Coming

Behold! He is Coming
December 15, 2015

Malachi 3:1 (NKJV) 1 “Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts.

Here we go! The homestretch of the Christmas season. This is the time when the season can be most stressful if we allow it to be. We have talked about some things that will help us remember what the season is really about. One of them is thanksgiving. We need to focus on being thankful. Not just thankful for what we have or even what the Lord has done for us. We need to be thankful for HIM! He is the reason, not just for the season, but for everything all the time.

I was praying about a message for the church last Sunday. Holiday messages are a little difficult because I always feel locked in to a particular subject. Then the Lord reminded me that Christmas is about “coming.” We celebrate the coming of the Lord to the earth as a baby. We tend to focus on the baby part and that is pretty significant. To think that the greatest power in the universe was concentrated in that small life born in such humble and vulnerable circumstances is astounding.

As wonderful as the virgin birth and the baby born are, the real point is that God came in the flesh and dwelt among us! (John 1:14) It is his coming that we celebrate. The more I meditated on that fact I began to think about all the times God came to his people. He always came to them when they were at the point of need. I want you to notice something in the events I highlight. God came to them they did not go to God first.

It is certainly necessary for us to come to him. The bible tells us in James 4:8 to draw near to God and he will draw near to us. There are times when God can not come to us unless we come to him. However, when his people are in need we see over and over again that he takes the initiative and comes to them even if they have not come to him. Let us look at some examples.

Genesis 3:8-9 (NKJV) 8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

Adam and Eve had committed a great sin. They were in real trouble and they knew it. They were not calling out to God. Quite the opposite, they were hiding from him. He came to them in the Garden of Eden. He called out to them, they did not call out to him.

I have always believed that this was not the first time God came to walk with them in the Garden but this is the only time it says he came to them. When they were at their point of greatest need God did not wait for them, he came to them. There was only so much he could do for them at that point because of their sin. Nevertheless, he came and did what he could.

Next I thought of Abraham. Man needed an avenue to have a relationship with God. The flood had destroyed the generation whose thoughts were “only evil continually” but unless there was some way for God and man to have a consistent relationship, they would just return to the same condition they were in before the flood. We can see that by the incident at Babel (Gen. 11.)

God and Abraham had a relationship but it needed to be more sure if there was going to be a remnant left to produce the Messiah. Look at Genesis 17.

Genesis 17:1-2 (NKJV) 1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. 2 And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”

Abraham did not go to God and request a covenant. God came to Abraham and offered what was, at that time, the strongest possible relationship between two people. He initiated the idea of a blood covenant between God and man.

When Israel was in slavery in Egypt God came to them in the person of Moses. The bible tells us that the people were crying out because of their bondage. That does not necessarily mean they were crying out to God in faith. I believe God found some who were in faith, such as Moses’ parents. As we read the story it is clear that most of the people had no faith at all. They were powerless in every way.

God did not wait for them. He came to Moses in the burning bush and sent him to be the deliverer of Israel.

Exodus 3:1-3 (NKJV) 1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”

When God’s people are in times of great need, he comes to them. There has never been a greater need than the separation that came between God and man because of sin. Man was powerless to overcome it. God wanted man to be his family once again. He wanted a way to open eternity for all who would come. What did he do in order to secure that result? He came to us.

Luke 2:6-7 (NKJV) 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:9-11 (NKJV) 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

John 1:14 (NKJV) 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

As we come down the homestretch of the holidays, let us remember that we are celebrating the fact of his coming. Not just the coming of a baby. Certainly not the coming of Santa Claus. We are celebrating the fact that, in our time of greatest need, he always comes to us.

Let the celebration of his greatest “coming to man” remind us that he came for all. He came for our co-workers, fellow students and our neighbors. He came for the loved ones who do not yet know him. He came for the “unlovely” among us. He even came for our enemies. Let his coming inspire us to come to those around us with the wonderful message that he came, he died and he was risen for each and every one of us.

Let his most celebrated coming remind you that he will come to you in your time of need as well. Whatever you are facing, behold he is coming!

Thanksgiving Magnifies the Lord

Psalm 69:30-32 (NKJV) 30 I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving. 31 This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bull, Which has horns and hooves. 32 The humble shall see this and be glad; And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.

This week we have been looking at the effect thanksgiving has on our faith. Faith changes things in our lives. Faith moves God. Faith coupled with thanksgiving takes faith to a higher and more powerful level. The thanksgiving I am talking about is being thankful to and for the giver of the thing not just being thankful for the thing. In the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17, all of them had faith. All of them were healed. The one who came back and gave thanks to Jesus was also made whole. That is what we need.

I want to look at another scripture about thanksgiving and how it works. The above verse uses the term “magnify the Lord.” The bible often speaks of this. The psalms are full of instances where David magnified the Lord. My wife uses a very good illustration as to what it means to magnify the Lord.

Have you ever used a telescope or binoculars? You know that when you look through either device correctly, whatever you are looking at is brought closer and made larger in your view. Have you ever looked through one backwards? Every child has done this and so, I suspect, have many adults. If you do the view is just the opposite. Everything appears small and far away. When you use them correctly the thing you are looking at is magnified.

When we magnify the Lord the affect is to make the Lord seem closer and bigger. In the Psalms we see David “magnify the Lord” when he is under duress or in trouble. The reason is obvious. He wants to see God as larger and closer in his trouble. Now, we know that God is not actually made larger or closer any more than the object in the lens is. It is how we see him that is affected.

The bible is full of admonitions to magnify the Lord but this psalm tells us how. I magnify him with thanksgiving. When I give thanks to the Lord, I magnify the Lord in my circumstance. It is like looking at him with a very powerful telescope. The more I give him thanks, the bigger he gets in my eyes.

This thanksgiving takes two forms. One is to thank him for what he has already done in our lives. Many times God told Israel to build altars. There are two kinds of altars. One is the altar of sacrifice where offerings were brought to atone for sins committed. The other is the altars of remembrance. God would tell them, “Build an altar in this place so that you will not forget what I have done for you.”

We have many altars in our life with the Lord. Every time God has done a significant thing in our lives, we have an altar that can be revisited. Our salvation experience is an altar. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, that is an altar. Healings, miraculous provision or some kind of deliverance are all altars that we can visit. When we do, that is an opportunity to give thanks to the Lord.

When we are in difficult times, we need to go back to those altars. We need to remember what God has done. However, it is not enough just to remember. We must also thank God for what he has done. Every time we do, we magnify the Lord in our current situation. We will begin to see the truth that God is bigger than this problem just as he was bigger than the problem we faced at the altar. We will see that the Lord is just as close to us as he was in the experience we are remembering.

We must also give thanks in the way the 10th leper did in Luke 17. He was not just thanking God for what he did but for who he was. He was grateful that his leprosy was healed but he was more grateful for and to the one who had changed his life. When you met Jesus, your life changed eternally. Whatever you may be dealing with today cannot compare with the eternal life you will enjoy forever. Paul understood this.

Romans 8:18 (AMP) 18 [But what of that?] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!

Paul saw that what he was faced with on earth could not compare with the what was coming in eternity. The Amplified Bible seems to indicate that understanding the eternal glory helps Paul walk in a present manifestation of that glory. I believe this is because thanking God for what he is to us eternally magnifies him in the present. As one brother said, “Thank God for the sweet by and by, but God also wants to deal with the rotten here and now.” The one affects the other.

If thanksgiving magnifies the Lord, can we turn the telescope around and make him seem farther away? I believe we can. When we choose to grumble or complain we “minimize” the Lord and magnify the problem. The telescope magnifies only what it is focused upon. Thanksgiving focuses the lens of the telescope on God while grumbling focuses it on the problem. Upon which will you focus your telescope?

We can also focus on the devil instead of God. When we always talk about what the devil is doing instead of what God is doing we magnify the devil over God. We need to spend our time thanking and praising God not looking for the devil. The bible says that we should not be ignorant of his devices (2 Cor. 2:11.) This means we should understand that he is a powerful adversary. If we concentrate on thanking God, he show us what we need to know about the devil.

The last two verses in this section of scripture give us more insight. It says that thanksgiving and praise please the Lord better than sacrifices. The animals listed here would be the most expensive sacrifices that could be offered. Thanksgiving pleases God more than any sacrifice we could give to him. Sometimes we will give God everything but the thing he desires most. We need to thank him. This is the only valid New Testament sacrifice (Hebrews 13:15.)

Finally, he says that the humble will see him and live. It takes humility to give thanksgiving to God. We must recognize that we cannot do what needs to be done alone. We are not the center of our lives and we are not self-sufficient. We need the Lord. If we are proud, we cannot be thankful.

The result of this is that our hearts shall live. I believe the heart to be the deepest part of our soul. It is in this part of our being where we can be made whole. This brings us back to the 10th leper. He was not just healed. He was made whole in spirit, in soul and in body.

Our world needs to be made whole. As I write this, the news is detailing yet another terrorist attack, this one in the United States. A man and wife left their 6-month old baby with the grandparents, went to a Christmas party for his work and brought guns and bombs, killing 14 and wounding 17. They ended up dying in a hail of bullets from police leaving their baby an orphan. What kind of new parent does such a thing? Our world is sick.

How will it be made whole. Only by the intervention of Jesus Christ. How will Jesus intervene? Through his people the church. How will we have the power to make a difference. We need to begin with giving thanks to the Lord.

Let this holiday season be a season of thanksgiving. I have challenged our church in this way and we found that we were immediately resisted by the devil and circumstances. That is no coincidence. Thanksgiving is one of those things for which the devil has no defense. Let thanksgiving be in your heart and in your mouth this Christmas.

Thanksgiving and Faith 2

Luke 17:15-19 (KJV) 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Yesterday we began looking at this section of scripture to see the impact thanksgiving has on the faith of a believer. We saw that all ten lepers who came to Jesus for healing had faith in operation. They followed the steps of faith in that they came to Jesus with a valid request and then acted on his Word. As they went to show themselves to the priests, they were healed. Nine of the ten continued to the priests. They had done what was commanded and were focused on receiving all that their faith had obtained.

There is nothing wrong with what the 9 lepers did. They did what the bible teaches concerning the operation of faith. They had the promise of healing in that they knew what Jesus did for others. Today we would go to the written Word, but Jesus was the word made flesh. They made their request in prayer and they obeyed the instructions that the “Word” gave them. That is what we must do. It is similar to what we learn about Abraham in Romans 4.

Even though there is nothing wrong with the behavior of the 9, look at what Jesus says in verse 17. “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” One of the lepers had returned to Jesus, fallen at his feet in worship and thanked him for what he had done. This is not part of what Jesus told them to do. They did not have to come back and give thanks. However, Jesus seems surprised that the other nine did not.

What were the nine doing and what was their focus? They were focused on receiving what they had asked for and were intent on getting to the priest so he could endorse their return to society. That is exactly what they got. The tenth leper wanted the same thing. However, he stopped and went back to Jesus. Some might say this was not obeying God. Jesus said show yourself to the priests. He had not done that and yet Jesus indicates that what he did was not disobedience but something else.

The nine who continued on their way were focused on receiving what they wanted from God. The tenth leper was focused on the God who gave it. The nine were excited about the gift. I am sure they were thankful for what Jesus had done for them. The one was more grateful to the giver of the gift than he was for the gift. There is a difference.

When we talk about thanksgiving we certainly include being grateful for what God has done for us. However, there should be a deeper thanksgiving. We must never let our focus be on the gift alone. We must never get so caught up on what we want from God that we forget it is God himself that is the most important thing in our lives.

It could be said that the tenth leper had not gotten the fullness of what his healing represented. He needed the proof of the priests that he was free of this dreaded disease if he wanted to go back to his life. What we find out in the next few verses is that his act of thanksgiving gave him much more than just healing.

Jesus says to him, “You faith has made you whole.” There are a number of things this might mean. Leprosy eats away at the body. It is common for lepers to have no nose or for fingers and toes to be gone. Over time, even limbs can be eaten away by this disease. To be healed means that the disease is stopped and is no longer contagious or eating away at the flesh. To be made whole could mean that the parts of the body that had been eaten away were restored to him.

There is another aspect of being whole that I think might be more relevant to many people today. What might the emotional and psychological scars of leprosy have been? How would it affect a person to have to shout “Unclean, unclean” as he walked down the street? What would it do to a person to lose his business, job and family? What scars are left when a person is forced to live in a leper colony surrounded by death and decay waiting for death to take him?

We live in a world where people are not whole. The pressures of society, the breakdown of family and sexual abuse and perversion are just a few of the things that keep people from being whole. I believe this term means to be healthy in spirit, soul and body. If there is one thing people in our world need it is to be whole. They need it more than physical healing or money. They need a touch from God that will restore them in every way possible. I often hear people being counseled say, “I just want to be normal.” Normal is relative. I believe what they are really saying is, “I want to be whole.”

Ten lepers received physical healing. That is what they came to Jesus for and that is what they got. However, one of them got much more. The tenth leper was healed. His disease was taken away. He also got something else. Whether in the physical, psychological or spiritual sense his whole being was touched by the power of God. The only difference between him and the other 9 was that he returned and gave thanks.

Jesus did not require that the lepers do this. He did not tell them that something good would happen if they did. And yet, he seemed surprised that only one came back to give thanks. Why would he be surprised? He was surprised because it is what should be done.

You and I can receive the promises of God by standing on and obeying the Word of God. However, if we prioritize giving thanks to the Lord for who he is and not just for what he has done for us, it magnifies the power of our faith. If we just do the Word, we receive what we want. When we couple that with true thanksgiving, we release the fullness of what God wants for us.

Jesus wanted wholeness for all ten lepers. They did not ask for that. Their focus was on healing. This is not a condemnation. If I had a life threatening disease I would be focused on healing as well. What the 10th leper did showed he was more focused on the healer than the healing. He did not know he needed to be made whole but Jesus did.

Sometimes we are so focused on the promise that we tie God’s hands in other areas. When we keep the giver in the center of our thanksgiving instead of the gift, it releases God to do far beyond what we understand. I am not saying he cannot do more unless we give him thanks. I am saying that doing what the 10th leper did will ensure that God can do all in us that we need. I believe it also causes God to give us the desires of our hearts.

Let your thanksgiving be to the giver and not just for the gifts this holiday season. I believe if we cultivate the attitude the 10th leper demonstrated for us we will see great things during this season and in the new year.

Thanksgiving and Faith 1

Luke 17:15-19 (KJV) 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Once again we are in the American Holiday season. This is a time of great stress for many people. The old song says it is the “most wonderful time of the year.” For many this is still true but it is also the busiest and most expensive time of the year. As I have grown older I must admit to being something of a “Scrooge” around the holidays. Nevertheless, if we can manage to refocus on the real meaning of Christmas (see Charlie Brown’s Christmas and Luke chapter 2), the holidays become a time of great opportunity for the believing Christian.

Over the last few posts I have been talking about the power and reality of thanksgiving in the life of a Christian. Thanksgiving in the natural is a response to something good that happens in life. To the Christian, it is a catalyst that will bring good things to us. It is one of the most important ways that the supernatural gates between heaven and earth are opened. As we have studied repeatedly this year, we are the gates that the presence of God must come through to touch our world. Nothing opens those gates like a thankful heart. That is a major key to making the holidays a wonderful and productive time to enjoy instead of a time to be endured.

In studying biblical thanksgiving, to me it is always necessary to look at one story in the bible. That is the story of the 10 lepers in today’s scripture. It is not really the story of all 10. It is much more the story of one of them. I want to take a few moments to examine him.

Anyone who reads the bible is probably familiar with the story. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and as he is passing through the countryside he comes to a certain village. 10 men call to Jesus from a distance asking him to have mercy on them. The bible says they called from “afar off.” There was a reason they kept their distance. Leprosy was the most feared disease of their day.

If you had leprosy in Jesus’ day you were considered unclean. It was illegal for you to be around other people. Leprosy is contagious and in their day, people did not understand how it spread. It is also a very ugly disease. I have seen its effects up close in India. If you had leprosy in bible days, you were a pariah. You were taken from your family and sent to live out your days with other lepers. They could not come near Jesus so they called to him from a distance.

Jesus answered them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” This was the only way to get back into society. You had to prove to the priests that you were free of the disease. If you could do that, they would declare you clean and you could go back to your home, your business and any other aspect of life. If they did not declare you clean you had to keep living apart until death took you.

These 10 people were not healed when Jesus spoke the words. The bible says that they were healed as they went. I want to point out a few things here. All ten of these men had faith in who Jesus was and what he said. They all got healed.

In the 1970’s we were part of something that became known as the “Word of Faith” movement (Romans 10:8.) This movement grew out of the Charismatic renewal and focused on the fact that faith in God was not random. Many believed that we were to trust God but we could not really know what he would do in any given situation. He might heal a person or he might not. He might prosper a person or “bless” them with poverty. Faith was a matter of believing that God knows best and will do for us that which we need not necessarily what we want. This thinking is not all bad but it caused most spirit filled people to be passive in their faith. This allowed the devil to rob things from us that God said were ours.

What attracted me to this stream of ministry was the simple idea that if God said something in his Word it was true. That included whatever he specifically promised. We could know what God would do in a given situation because he told us what he would do. All the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20.) If I see a promise in the Word of God for healing, victory or prosperity I can believe that promise and faith in the promise will change my circumstances by the power of God. Some see this as trying to manipulate God to do what you want. I believe it is simply trusting God to do what he said.

As is often the case, the pendulum of truth swung right through the center until there were excesses on the other side. Now we did not see faith as passive or random but we became too focused on our part of the process and not enough on God’s part. At times we forgot to factor in the sovereignty of God. We said things like, “You can write your own ticket with God!” This is not quite true.

We can believe for things that we want and need without waiting for something more than the written promise in the bible. However, we sometimes forgot that God was the one who wrote the ticket in the bible. We had to be willing to accept his way of bringing that promise to pass. We have to be willing to trust him to do what is right for us in his time and in his way. Let me share an example.

I had a friend who got into this kind of thinking and was believing for a van to use in ministry travel. He wanted a blue van. He said to me, “If someone gave me a red van I wouldn’t take it. We need to be specific in our prayer and God won’t give me a red van when I asked for a blue one.” He never did get a van. That is not being specific, that is being stupid!

The bible says in many places that God will meet our needs. It even says that he will give us the desires of our hearts. I believe that as long as we are doing our best to walk right before God we can expect him to do what he says in his Word. That said, I believe we also need to leave the details to him. If we trust him, we should believe that he will give us what we need. Many times our requests are made according to what we know or want. His view is much different. We need to let him adjust our requests as necessary even if we have a definite promise to stand on.

I say all this to point out that all ten lepers were standing and acting on the promise of God just as we learned to do in the Word of Faith teaching. They did not have the answer when they obeyed Jesus and went to the priest. However, they trusted his word and went to show themselves anyway. They were walking by faith and not by sight. They all got the thing they were asking for. However, one of them was different.

I believe in aggressive faith. I have done everything I have done in ministry by faith. I have never had fame or a great deal of money. I have built 3 churches, all of which still exist. I have bought and built buildings with little or no debt. I have traveled extensively around the world. All of this has been done by standing on the promises of God and acting on his word when it seemed impossible.

I have done the same in my personal life. I am healthy. My marriage and family are healthy. My children and my grandchildren are all so far serving the Lord. All of this has been done by applying the principles of faith just as the ten lepers did. Nevertheless, there is a pitfall. Sometimes we get so focused on the thing we are believing for that we leave something out. That was what happened to nine out of the ten lepers.

Come back tomorrow as we see what they left out and how it affected the outcome of their faith.