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Friday, April 18, 2014

Bahamas blogging #12: Lent

Admittedly, there has never been a worship bulletin with such a wealth of inspiration for my writing as the one from First Baptist Church, Freeport, Grand Bahama of 3/16/2014. I have saved the wonderful letter written by the pastor for our Good Friday topic. 

In the Christian calendar, Lent traditionally goes from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve. It is a time when believers "give up something" or fast as a means of sacrifice in memory of that much greater sacrifice our Lord Jesus made for us. The forty days of the Lenten season are intended to be a time of personal introspection and corporate worship, but also a time of mourning for sin, both individual sin as well as the corporate sin of mankind. In contrast to Advent, a joyful time of anticipating the birth of our Savior, Lent is a time of anticipating the brutal death of that long-awaited Messiah. 

The agony of the cross is easily overshadowed by the joy of the glorious resurrection we commemorate on Easter. In the midst of our Resurrection celebration, however, we must not lose sight of the price Jesus paid in order to make that empty tomb possible. Beaten, betrayed, humiliated, shamed, crucified, He died a criminal's death. It was what I deserved. It was what you deserved. Yet, because of His great love and mercy, He took our place. Our place. We must not lose sight of that fact. 

He died instead of us, that we might live eternally with Him. It was also His intention that we might live free this side of heaven. He longed for us to be free from the bonds of sin that so easily entangle us. He broke those bonds with His death and resurrection. We can accept freedom. Much to our shame, we can also choose bondage, as well, and often we do. 

The words Rev. Dr. Mitchell wrote are so timely that they bear repeating here. "Lent is that time of preparation when we prepare for our most wretched memory - the betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion of our loving and obedient Lord; but it is also the time of preparation for our most glorious celebration - the resurrection if our victorious Christ!

As always, we must take seriously the cross, with all of it's brutality and ugliness; we must not gloss over it on our way to Easter Sunday. Yet , we must be exuberant in our declaration: He lives! he lives !"

On this Good Friday evening, I invite you to join me in focusing on the price that was paid for our sin, and the agony it involved. I cannot envision loving mankind enough to suffer so greatly, and yet our Lord went willingly for us all. 

Remember, and choose to live as one who has been redeemed.   
In honor of Silent Saturday, when believers waited while Jesus was entombed, there will be silence on the blog, with no posts until Easter morning. May we be radically changed by the One whose death and resurrection made change and redemption possible. 
The link for last night's post is here:

What's in your storehouse? Part 3 (Luke 6:45)

Part 3:
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45 NASB)

We look now at the last portion of this verse. The first two sections dealt with the good or evil residing in our hearts and spilling over. The next section deals with an especially difficult part of this problem. Our mouths. 

Jesus made this unmistakably clear. The words we speak come from what we have in our hearts. No matter what we "hide" in our hearts, it is almost certainly going to spill out eventually in our speech. The converse is also true, and I hate it. The words we speak do not just fly into our mouths randomly like a passing gnat. The words we speak spill into our mouths from what we have allowed to hide in our hearts. Whoa! That bears repeating. 

The words we speak spill into our mouths from what we have allowed to hide in our hearts. 

Selah. Pause and consider. 

Words. They matter more than you think. Unkind words, gossip, critical or judgmental words, cursing, sexual innuendos all come from our hearts. In fact, those around us can get a fairly accurate picture of our hearts by consistently listening to what we say. Eventually, the truth of our heart condition will spill forth, and clarify for those around us that which we have stored deep inside. What we reveal is not always flattering, is it? It is not always glorifying to God, either. 

What are we to do? The most important thing we can do is to so fill our minds and hearts with Christ that there is no place for the vileness of evil. The things we say may draw a laugh from those around us, but they are not likely to draw a laugh from Almighty God, who also hears what we say. When our speech reveals what should have no place in our hearts, we must stop and ask for forgiveness and cleansing from the One who is faithful and just to provide both in ample measure. 

Pray today that our words will reflect a heart for God that will draw the ones we love the most to our beautiful Savior. 
Here's the link to last night's post:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blood Red Moon, part 3

There has recently been considerable interest in the red moon (blood moon, blood red moon) and its role as a "sign". To understand the significance of a sign, we need to understand what signs are. 

We see signs every day and think little about them. As I pulled into my driveway this evening, I saw a sign that said, "No passing." That sign is both instructive and informative. Just past my house is a sign that says, "Road work ahead." That sign tells me what to expect if I continue traveling in the same direction. It's a prophetic sign. The "children at play" sign tells us to be careful so that we can avoid a terrible accident. That kind of sign is protective. 

Just as we have a variety of road signs, each with a particular purpose, we also have a variety of signs in Scripture. They also serve a particular purpose. The rainbow is a sign that reminds us of God's promise not to destroy the world by a flood again.  

In Genesis 17:11, Abraham was told by God that circumcision would be the sign of the covenant between them. 

Ahaz, King of Judah was facing dangerous enemies and he fully expected utter defeat at their hands. God sent Isaiah to encourage him, but Ahaz could not be comforted. Finally, God told him to ask for a sign. He refused, thinking he was tempting The Almighty. God told him that He would give Ahaz a sign instead. "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14 NASB) He went on to tell Ahaz that, before the child was old enough to know right and wrong, the two nations he feared would be forsaken. The virgin birth was a sign of God's ability to deliver. 

Ezekiel wrote that Sabbaths were supposed to be a sign between God and His people that He sanctifies them. 

The shepherds (Luke 2:2) were given the sign of the baby in the manger to verify what the angels had said. 

In Luke 21:7-24, Jesus talked about signs. He and the disciples were outside the temple. He looked up and said that there would be a time when not one stone would be left on another. He was speaking of the destruction of the temple. The disciples, of course, wanted to know when this would happen. Jesus began to talk about what was to come. You may want to read those verses for yourself, but I've excerpted a few:

"And He said, "See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He, ' and, 'The time is near.' Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately."  

Then He continued by saying to them, "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 

"But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; and you will be hated by all because of My name. 

"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled." (Luke 21:8-14, 17, 20-22 NASB)

Jesus imitators, wars, earthquakes, plagues, famines, and persecution would all happen before Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. "When Jerusalem is surrounded by enemies," He said, "you know things are about to get much worse." 

Interestingly, all those things have happened and the temple has been destroyed, but a portion of the Western Wall tunnel remains. Because there are stones atop stones there, many feel that the prophecy is not yet fulfilled and that Jesus was speaking of a time of further destruction. Many people claim to know. Only God actually knows.

Before we move on, we need to look again at what Jesus said. "And He said, "See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not go after them. (Luke 21:8 NASB) 

Did you catch that? We are not to be misled. When people start saying, "The time is near," as if they know when Jesus will return, we are to be very careful so we will not be misled. "Do not follow them," is what Jesus said. He knew it would be tempting to get caught up in speculation. A word to the wise should be sufficient.

Jesus also talked about when He would return. It's a great passage and I'm including it here so you can read it. 

"There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:25-28 NASB)

In a nutshell, Jesus said we will see unusual things in nature and will not be able to explain them. We will think they are signs (and they are). People will be perplexed and will be so afraid of what is to come that they will faint. After that, they will see Jesus returning in a very impressive manner. They will really be frightened then. However, those who are followers of Jesus should not be frightened out of our minds. Instead, we should see things that might be a sign, stand up a little taller, lift our heads, and look to the sky, because our Jesus will be on His way to get us soon. 
That finally brings us to the blood red moon. Is it a sign? Yes. What does it mean? It means that God is on His throne and in control, Jesus is coming back for us, and we don't know when.  We just know He's coming. We know it's closer than it was but only God knows when it will be. Our response to the sign should be exactly what Jesus said to do. Stand up taller, lift our heads, and trust in the name of The Lord, who alone has the power to save. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Blood Red Moon, part 2

In the first section of this series, we looked at the passage in Joel in which "the moon will be turned to blood" is first mentioned. 

The second pasage that has attracted recent attention is Acts 2:20. 

'The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood, Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. (Acts 2:20 NASB)

This verse is a direct quote from the pasage in Joel. The setting is quite different. You may remember that Joel was written during the time surrounding a plague of locusts and resulting destruction. A little review of Peter's situation might be helpful. 

After His resurrection but before He ascended back into heaven, Jesus instructed his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That sounded pretty exciting, as you can well imagine. They began to speculate and ask if that would be when Jesus restored the nation of Israel. He told them bluntly that it was not their job to worry about what was going to happen when. "God the Father has that firmly under control and needs not a bit of help," He said. (Leanna paraphrase) "It is your job to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit, then be my witnesses throughout the world. Tell everyone about Me!" 

Before we go one sentence further, we need to understand something. Jesus made it very clear here, as He had in other places, that we are to be about His business and not be overly focused on when He is coming back, when the world will end, or when God will bring judgement. God has that under control and He is keeping the dates to Himself. In a manner of speaking, He is planing a surprise. Our relationship to Christ will determine if this is a good surprise or not.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples and friends went to the upper room where they were staying and spent the next 52 days dedicating themselves to prayer. When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together, the sound of rushing wind came, followed by the tongues of fire, then they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. (The original word here is glōssa and can mean tongue, language, or dialect.) 

Needless to say, the noise of the wind, as well as everyone speaking at once, attracted some attention. There were people in Jerusalem from all around the world and they were astonished to hear these Jewish people speaking in their language. Some were utterly amazed but some were saying, "They are just babbling drunk!" 

An amazing thing happened next. Peter, who was afraid to acknowledge that he knew Christ when confronted by a servant girl, was transformed by the Holy Spirit within him. He was a common fisherman, not a Biblical scholar. With amazing boldness, he jumped up in front of the crowd and started preaching. 

"First of all," he said, "these men aren't drunk! Second, this is the very thing Joel prophesied." He quoted the passage from Joel 2:28-32 that described the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on young and old, rich and poor, men and women. It spoke of visions, dreams, and prophesy. He quoted straight through the section about the moon being turned to blood and the signs and wonders in the heavens, to end at verse 32, which says that everyone who calls on the name of The Lord will be saved. 

Peter was just getting started. With the idea of calling on the name of The Lord as his starting point, Peter began to tell them about his Lord, Jesus. He explained everything in crystal clear terms. Like all good speakers, Peter tied his starting point back in to his ending point. When the listeners were cut to the heart with conviction, they asked what they should do. Peter told them they should do exactly what Joel said to do. They should repent of their sins, call on the name of The Lord Jesus, and be saved. It was an amazing altar call, as 3000 people were baptized that day! 

Peter did mention the moon turning into blood, there is no denying that. Taken in context, though, it is abundantly clear that he was much more interested in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, the urgent need for repentance and the complete forgiveness available than in astronomical signs, and we should be, too. 

If you are overwhelmed by the guilt of your sin and in desperate need of forgiveness, do what both Joel and Peter recommended. Follow the signs that point to Jesus and find exactly what you need!

Part 3 will look at "signs" and we will continue the study of blood red moon.

In case you missed part one, here's the link:

What's in your storehouse? Part 2

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45 NASB)

In the previous post, we looked at what should not fill our hearts. Today, we look more closely at what should fill our hearts. In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul wrote about this very topic of what should fill our minds, and as a result, our hearts. "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Philippians 4:8 NASB)   We are to dwell (or consider or deliberate) on what is good. Our standard for "dwelling" should be, "Is it true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good reputation, excellence, worthy of praise?" It's not hard to recognize good, is it?  

Sometimes it's a little harder to recognize the bad.  That morsel of gossip shared as a "prayer request", the "righteous anger" after we have been hurt by a friend, the disapproval of a loved one's behavior can all look fairly benign, and may be. It is easy, however, to move from concern about someone's poor choice to a judgmental, critical spirit toward them. 

How do we make the distinction and keep our minds and hearts "pure"?  The first step is to ask for God's help. He wants our hearts pure and is happy to help us. The second step is to do what 2 Corinthians 10:5 recommends.  "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ," (2 Corinthians 10:5 NASB).  We destroy our silly speculations by taking our thoughts captive. 

Once we have "captured" our speculations, what do we do with them? We can cage them in our minds, where they will be constantly trying to escape, or we can give them to our God and ask Him to remove them completely. Giving them to God is, of course, infinitely more desirable. 

In case we didn't quite recognize this, filling our hearts and minds requires one thing of us. CHOICE. We have a choice about what we use to fill our hearts and minds. If we want a heart that pleases God, we need to choose accordingly. We can't have it any other way. 

Pray today that we and our loved ones will choose to fill our hearts and minds only with that which pleases our Lord. 

What's in your storehouse?

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45 NASB)

Here we move from the examples of specks in eyes and of fruit on trees to the heart in man. The good (or righteous) man stores goodness or good things in his heart. To store only good things sounds simple, but it's harder than you might think. To have a heart-storehouse filled with good means that you cannot store the bad things. No anger, bitterness, or unforgiveness are allowed. If someone hurts you, immediate forgiveness is imperative, lest you hold on to the wound and contaminate your heart. 

There is no room for fear or doubt in this heart-storehouse of goodness. God's perfect love can banish fear and doubt, and it must be allowed to cast them out, lest they contaminate your heart.

There is no reason for lust in these hearts of ours, and it must be avoided. 

What we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and think with our minds all can easily find a resting place in our heart. We would do well to remember (and live) the old adage, "See not evil, hear no evil, do no evil."  Avoiding evil is the best way to keep our hearts pure and our heart-storehouse filled with goodness. 

We will look at the good we need to store tomorrow. For today, spend a few moments considering your heart storehouse. What do you find stored in your heart?  Is it only good?

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Philippians 4:8 NASB)

Pray today that we and our loved ones will be drawn to those things that are true, honorable, pure, and lovely and they will so fill our hearts that there is no room for that which is not. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Blood Red Moon

The blood red moon was not one of my intended topics this week, but several people have asked me about it, so I'm plunging in. 

There are two passages to which reference is made when considering the "blood moon". The first passage is found in Joel 2:31. The second, in Acts 2:20, is actually a quote from the Joel passage. The verse from Joel says, "The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood Before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes." (Joel 2:31 NASB). When you read that, there is a tendency to think "blood moon" equals end of the world. That is certainly understandable, but let's look at the entire book of Joel first before we decide. 

This short book of prophecy contains only three chapters.  Joel opened with a description of a plague of locusts that caused incredible destruction in the land. He indicated that the plague had come in response to the wickedness of the people. He described them as being so consumed with seeking pleasure that they were immune to seeking God's will.  When the crops were destroyed by the locusts, there was nothing to offer as a grain offering, and there were no grapes, thus no wine, for the drink offering. No one seemed to care. He urged the people to mourn the consequences of the plague that had come as a result of their collective sin, but it sounds as if no one did.  

Joel had particularly harsh words for the priests. He said the destruction from the locusts should cause the priests to mourn and weep, lead others to fast and cry out to God, sound an alarm, and return to God with their whole heart. He explained that the consequences of being out of fellowship with God were that we lose our joy and our gladness. They could both quickly be regained by repentant hearts! 

Joel saw such wickedness around him that he warned that the day of The Lord was near. He feared judgement was at hand and that it would be terrible. "Who can endure it?" he asked. Just as always, a hard word of judgement is followed by a promise of hope and mercy.  

"Yet even now," declares the Lord, "Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments." Now return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil. (Joel 2:12, 13 NASB)

This is one of my favorite passages, and it concludes with words that are so beautiful. If we repent and return to The Lord with hearts broken over our sin, "who knows whether He will not turn... and leave a blessing behind." (Joel 2:14). When we deserve the harshest of judgement, our very gracious, kind God responds to hearts broken by sin with a blessing instead! Joel goes on to describe the bounteous blessings God will pour out on His people. God had sent the locusts to accomplish a specific purpose (repentance) and, when that was accomplished, He promised that He would more than make up for what the locusts had stolen. 

He goes on to describe an outpouring of God's Spirit on all mankind. No one would be left out. Rich, poor, male, female, young, old. All would share in His Spirit. He described signs and wonders that would happen, including astronomical happenings. (Solar eclipse, blood moon). Do not misunderstand this. The blood moon in 2:31 is an interesting sight, but it should point us to the promise in 2:32. "And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord Will be delivered..." (Joel 2:32 NASB)

Whoever calls on the name of The Lord will be delivered!  The blood moon pales in comparison, doesn't it?

Charter 3 is a summary of all the wonderful things God will do, but there are two promises to which we can cling. 
1) Sin (our own or that of others) can never take us so far from God that He cannot restore us and avenge us. ( Joel 3:7)
2) God will protect His own. He WILL protect His people. (Joel. 3:16)

The moon will look red like blood, and we may call it a "blood red moon". Whether it presages the end of the world or not, no one can say. Jesus made it very clear that no one but God the Father knows when that will be. That blood moon, however, had one very definite purpose. It points us to God and reminds that judgement will come, but mercy is still available and with it comes abundant grace as well. Both are ours for the asking. 

Here's the link for part 2 of this series: