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Independence Day

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress.

A More Perfect Union

On our Independence Day, as we celebrate our great heritage as a nation, let us compare our nation with another great nation. In biblical times, this nation was given a great promise and covenant from God. This is the nation of Israel. Today, both of these nations are in a great struggle.

The founding fathers of these two nations had at least one thing in common, they trusted in and relied upon God for their formation and mission. One nation was to be a great missionary nation. The other was commissioned by God to be a holy nation and royal priesthood.

Let us look at America first. The delegates, who signed the Declaration of Independence, took on great personal risk. They were fighting for what they thought was a higher cause, greater than any personal gain they might achieve. As written in the Declaration, they affirmed:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

As part of this Declaration, they made a pledge:

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

They did so, realizing the danger this pledge might bring to them personally. Nevertheless, they did not look back. They fully gave themselves to the cause.

The cost was steep. Five signers of the Declaration were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of them fought and died from wounds or hardships from the war.

Perhaps, without realizing it, they were following the example of Abraham and his descendants. Abraham entered into a covenant with God. When he did so he entered into unknown territory. The Book of Hebrews tells us:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.   (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Abraham did not look back. He endured hardship not only for the promise which God had made to him personally. He did so for the benefit of all the generations who would follow him. Those who followed endured great hardships as well. From Hebrews we read:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   (Hebrews 11:13-16)

The hardships were for a reason. God had chosen Israel for a divine purpose. At Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses concerning their mission: 

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”   (Exodus 19:4-6)

Over the years, God had been shaping Israel. It has not yet become a holy nation or a royal priesthood.  Nonetheless, what is impossible for humankind is possible with God. Nonetheless, we are indebted to Israel for our faith which leads to salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

After the terrible battle of Gettysburg, which cost so many lives, Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in his famous address:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

We have not fulfilled these words. Despite our efforts, we have fallen short of the dream that our forefathers had for America. We are not yet that one nation under God, which provides freedom and liberty to all its citizens. Nor or we the great missionary nation which God has called us to be. This does not mean that we should stop striving. Without God the dream would not even be possible.

Our nation is now under attack, both from without and from within. There are people and forces who wish to destroy America as we know it in order to build their Utopia. While they strive to tear down our institutions, erase our history, and work to destroy the family, they tell us to put our trust in them. They will save us, promising peace without the Prince of Peace. The Apostle Paul write:

When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!   (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

In today’s Old Testament lesson we read:

You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.   (Deuteronomy 10:20-21)

Moses was reminding the people of the true architect of the nation of Israel. Perhaps we need the same reminder?

God is calling us to perfection, but we must be willing to follow him. He is our perfection. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about perfection:

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   (Matthew 5:43-48)

How will we ever achieve this perfection? We certainly cannot do it on our own. We need divine help. The hope for perfection is fulfilled by faith in Jesus Christ alone. It will take the Millennial Reign of Jesus on the Earth before that perfection fully comes.

Israel will one day be a holy nation. Since we are the ingrafted branches, the American dream and experiment will also be consummated as Christians believers the world over join the new Jerusalem. In the meantime, we must press on. God is for us and with us. He has extended his grace once more for the purpose of a last great revival to usher in lost souls. Are we with him?

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.   (Psalm 33:12)

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Day of Pentecost

I Will Pour out My Spirit on All Flesh

Today we celebrate the birth of the Church. We mark it as an historical event, and that it is – very significant one. Reading from Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.   (Acts 2:1-4)

Clearly something supernaturally was happening. The Apostle Peter began preaching concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus. He ended up by saying:

Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”   (Acts 2:36)

Many of Peter’s listeners was moved by the Spirit:

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”    (Acts 2:37-39)

Peter said the promise was for his listeners, but also for those who are far away. What was the promise? Peter quoted the Prophet Joel:

In the last days it will be, God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.   (Acts 2:17-18)

The promise was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Was this a onetime experience? Not in the Early Church. We read in the Book of Acts that the apostles were arrested for performing a healing by the Holy Spirit. When they were later released they gathered for prayer:

When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.   (Acts 4:31)

There were manifestations of the outpouring of the Spirit, both on the Day of Pentecost and throughout the the buddEarly Church. The Apostle wrote about them to the Church in Corinth:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.   (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

But this was the Apostolic Age, some might say. It is not for today. Is the Holy Spirit doctrinal or dynamic? Jesus told Nicodemus :

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   (John 3:8)

The Spirit is like the wind. Is it under our control” No, the wind blows where it chooses.

Let us look at an Old Testament outpouring of the Spirit. God asks Moses to gather 70 elders and bring them to the tent of meeting:

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.   (Numbers 11:24-25)

The tent of meeting was not the only place where this outpouring occurred, however:

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord‘s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”   (Numbers 11:26-30)

Do we have any Eldad’s and Medad’s in our churches today? Joshua thought they were not allowed in his day. They did not follow protocol. Does the spirit follow our protocol or does our protocol follow the Spirit? As ministers of the Gospel are we free to say, along with Moses: “Would that all the Lord‘s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” ?

Jesus spelled out the protocol:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   (John 7:37-39)

Jesus was glorified on the cross. He paid a great price so that we could receive the Holy Spirit. Are we thirsty?

This Sunday we celebrate an historical event. We celebrate the birth of the Church. Let us also celebrate an outpouring of the Holy Spirit today and pray for a rebirth of the Church as we welcome the Spirit into our own hearts. God has not finished with us yet. That should not keep us from celebrating Jesus’s victory over the cross, the grave, and Hell. God wants to wash over us and release in us a spring of living water.

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Seventh Sunday of Easter

Restoration and Glory

There should be no doubt that we are living in the last days. End time prophecies are being fulfilled, left and right. How do we as a church respond? The early disciples were concerned about the end times in a way. They wanted to know about the restoration of Israel. From today’s Gospel:

When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”   (Acts 1:6-11)

Are we standing, looking up towards heaven, as a Church today? There is much talk about the rapture and when that might take place. The world has gotten so bad for Christians that many of us just want to be safely removed as quickly as possible.

This is not our calling. We have been given work to do. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle. Intercessory prayer is a large part of the battle. As soon as Jesus descended into heaven the beginning of the Early Church began with prayer. The disciples returned to Jerusalem:

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.   (Acts 1:7-14)

The pouring out of the Holy Spirit would soon take place at Pentecost. The Church was formed, powered, and directed by the Holy Spirit. Ir was equipped for battle and it faced a hostile world. The Apostle Peter wrote:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.   (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Today, are we aware that, when we truly answer the call of God, the spirit of God’s glory rests upon us. God is raising up a new generation of apostles, prophets, and evangelists who will help usher in a great worldwide revival.

There are conditions which we must meet, however. Peter continues:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.   (1 Peter 5:6-11)

This message was for the Early Church and it is a message for those of us who will believe today.

”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”   (John 17:6-11)

Our call is to be one with God. Who will believe? Who will step up? Jesus is glorified in his disciples. He was glorified in the Early Church and he will be glorified now in those who believe and receive his Spirit. Notice that he did not pray for the world to be glorified. The world will be judged.Let us no longer be led by worldly leaders who have corrupted everything that they have touched. Let us be moved by the Spirit to pray for and touch the people of the world who are destined to be saved in this last day.

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The Epiphany

adormagiVisitation of the Magi

A moment of epiphany is when we say: “Aha!” We suddenly see a truth that we did not realize before. It may seem to come as a complete surprise, but often a deep preparation within may have been ongoing of which we were not fully aware.

The birth of Jesus almost went unnoticed by most of the world. A few shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem were informed by the heavenly hosts. But the Magi were able to discern that a major event had occurred through vigilant study and dedication of purpose. They had observed the night sky. God had been  preparing them for this great event. They were not Jews but they were acquainted with the ancient writings and had sought out the sayings of the prophets:

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”  (Micah 5:2,4)

The wisemen from the East were seeking the Lord. They did not fully understand who they were seeking but it did not stop them from doing so. They traveled a long distance and were willing to make sacrifices. We may look upon our life as a journey. What do we seek? Whom do we seek? And what sacrifices are we willing to make in our day? Will we set aside a time in our lives to seek God with all our hearts? (It is interesting to note that many people today seek God through Eastern mysticism. We must remember that the best of the Eastern seekers of God bowed down to the Lord Jesus.)

God reveals himself to those who are seeking Him. Many people are not seeking God today. Matters beyond their immediate concerns are of little importance to them. They are living in darkness without even knowing that they are in darkness. They have not yet seen the light of Christ. Nevertheless, the light of Christ can break forth at any time. This world needs a spiritual “Aha!”

The good news of Christ Jesus is for all people. From the Isaiah we read:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.  (Isaiah 60:1-3)

A wise person realizes that he or she does not have all the answers. Wisdom comes from seeking. The Apostle Paul wrote that “the mystery was made known to me by revelation.” Paul had a spiritual “aha!”.He writes:

In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  (Ephesians 3:5-6)

Paul further writes:

Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.  (Ephesians 3:8-12)

To be fair, Paul had been seeking God through his study of Judaism. He was a scholar of the first order. He needed direction and grace from God.

The wisemen of old sought Jesus. They found Him and worshiped Him. They returned to their own people with joy in their hearts. The Epiphany for them was a great and joyful awakening.

On the other hand, an epiphany of God can be a fearful thing. It was for Herod. From today’s Gospel we read:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened. …  (Matthew 2:1-3)

Herod did not want an epiphany of God. He believed that he was in charge of his circumstances and he wanted to keep it that way. What stops us from receiving our own epiphany? Have we been seeking God on a deep level? Are ready for an “Aha!” If we are holding on desperately to the status quo then we may miss a move of God.

However, we are in the advance stages of the Church age. There is not a lot of time left. God is on the move. He is pouring out his Spirit like never before. This Season of Epiphany may be a special time for us to tune ourselves to God’s frequency and not that of the world. The devil has a frequency that is distracting and discouraging. This is not from God.

We must slow down our worldly pace. We need to spend time in his Word and in prayer. God will speak to us. A great surprise might be coming our way. We read from Jeremiah 28:

Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord…

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