Monday, December 31, 2012

The River and the Tree

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Monday, December 31, 2012:  Revelation 22:1-21

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2 (NKJV)

There is a garden, a river, and a tree at the beginning of the Bible and now at the end.  God says, "Behold, I make all things new!" (Rev. 21:5)  That which has fallen will be restored.  That which was broken will be repaired and made new.  This is a wonderful picture.

One of the important aspects of all prophetic Scripture is what we can call the "NOW" and the "NOT YET".  When we read about such awesome things, we can feel that they are all for the future -- the "not yet."  It has been referred to as the "sweet by and by."  But, meanwhile we having to plod through the "rotten here and now!"

It's great to read about rivers of clear water and trees that drop healing like gumdrops from the sky.  But what about right now?  It is important for us to realize that all prophetic Scripture is a mixture.  It tells us what is to come, but in doing so it invites us to begin enjoying those things NOW.

Heaven will be the FULLNESS of all our dreams and hopes.  But that does not mean we can't dream now.  Hebrews states that we are "tasting of the powers of the age to come"! (Heb. 6:5)  That means we can begin to drink from that pure river today.  Yes, it will be even more so then, but that does not mean we can't begin enjoying it today.  We can experience the healing that God offers TODAY, even though that healing will be complete then. 

So, as we end 2012, make it your decision to dive into the river of the Holy Spirit.  Ask Him to become more than a doctrine to you.  Ask Him to be your Comforter, your Helper, your Best Friend.  That river is flowing from the throne today. 

Ask God to release the healing from the tree of life.  Healing is far more than physical repair.  It is WHOLENESS in Christ.  Jesus came not just to fix our messes and put band-aids on our bruises.  He came to renew an intrinisic health to our entire being.  We were not created to be ill and distressed.  We were created, in the words of the Westminster Confession, "to love God and enjoy Him forever." 

Happy New Year!

Christmas Carols: "Emmanuel"

Here are the notes from yesterday's message at New Life Community Church.  If you would like to listen to this message, you may do so at our website  God bless!

Christmas Carols, Part 4


21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”  Matthew 1:21-23 ( NKJV)

Emmanuel means God WITH us.



Words: Com­bined from var­i­ous an­ti­phons by an un­known au­thor, pos­si­bly in the 12th Cen­tu­ry (Ve­ni, ve­ni Eman­u­el); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by John M. Neale, Med­iae­val Hymns, 1851. Neale’s orig­in­al trans­l­a­tion be­gan, “Draw nigh, draw nigh, Em­man­u­el.”
Music: Veni Em­man­u­el, from a 15th Cen­tu­ry pro­cess­ion­al of French Fran­cis­can nuns (the set­ting for the fu­ner­al hymn Libera me); ar­ranged by Thom­as Hel­more in the Hymn­al Not­ed, Part II (Lon­don: 1856) (MI­DI, score).
The lyrics echo a num­ber of pro­phet­ic themes. The ti­tle comes from the well known Isai­ah 7:14: “Be­hold, a vir­gin shall con­ceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Im­man­u­el.” Im­man­u­el is He­brew for “God with us.” The “Rod of Jesse” refers to Isai­ah 11:1: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jes­se”; Jesse was the fa­ther of Da­vid, se­cond king of Is­ra­el. “Day-Spring” comes from Za­cha­ri­as, fa­ther of John the Bap­tist, in Luke 1:78: “The day­spring from on high has vis­it­ed us.” “Thou Key of Da­vid” is in Isai­ah 22:22: “The key of the house of Da­vid will I lay up­on his shoul­der,” which in turn re­fers to Isai­ah 9:6 “The gov­ern­ment shall be up­on His shoul­der.”

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NKJV)

How many have ever prayed the prayer, “God be with me, be with us”?

God be with us on this trip.  Grant us safety.  Be with the kids in the backseat, so they don’t kill each other while we drive.

God be with us as we go to the shopping mall.  Help us to find the best bargains.  Help us to find a good parking space.

God be with us as we begin this New Year. 

God be with me as I take this final exam.

God be with me as I go for this new job.

There is a built in contradiction here.  We call Him EMMANUEL, yet we pray, God please be with me.

1.    The Lord is with you in your PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”  Luke 1:28 (NIV)

Odd Circumstances
Bad Timing
Humbling Situations


2.  The Lord WAS with you in PAST DIFFICULTIES.

But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. Genesis 39:21 (NKJV)

God does not always answer the WHY questions.

But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)

History is filled with stories of really bad things that happened to people but they didn’t let it stop them and somehow God brought incredibly good things out of it.

3.  The Lord WILL be with you to GUIDE your future.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  ...   37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35, 37-39 (NKJV)

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  Revelation 1:8 (ESV)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

All Things New

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Sunday, December 30, 2012:  Revelation 21:1-27

and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Revelation 21:4-5 (NASB)

There is a scene in Mel Gibson's great movie The Passion of the Christ in which Mary runs to her badly beaten and tortured Son who has just fallen for the third time as He carries the Cross toward Golgatha. There is a flashback to an earlier day when this Son was a small boy running in the dusty streets of Nazareth and had fallen in similar fashion. The contrast is powerful - the youthful innocence of a child and the battered face of the One who saves us. 

Mary reaches to touch the face of her Son as if to help Him and ease His hurt.  He speaks back to her the words of Revelation 21:5, "Behold, I make all things new."  He speaks this across the ages to each one of us. In a world robbed of its innocence, He came to bring new beginnings. 

This is so appropriate at this time of year, as we say goodbye to 2012 and welcome 2013. Resolutions are made that reflect our desire to go to a new place, a higher dimension, the next level. We desire to have a fresh start - a "do over".

One of the grand truths of the gospel is the continual offer to BEGIN AGAIN. God will dry every tear and banish our failures. In His forgiveness is also Hs restoration. 

So, as we end this year and begin a new one, hear what Jesus says to you, "Behold, I make all things new."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Book and the Books

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Saturday, December 29, 2012:  Revelation 20:1-15

12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. Revelation 20:12 (NASB)

15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:15 (NASB)

Amazingly, Scripture indicates that there will be two judgments at the end of time. These are typified here by "the book and the books."  It is very important for us to understand the difference between these two events. The judgment of "the book" is for ETERNAL DESTINY, and the judgment of "the books" is for ETERNAL REWARD.


A book will opened in which the names are written of all those who have accepted and believed in the atoning work of Jesus on the Cross. This is the book of life. These are those whose sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ. This book is NOT ACCORDING TO WORKS but according to FAITH. All that required for a positive verdict in this judgment is that you be born again. If so, then "there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).


Then there is a second judgment in which "books" are opened. This judgment is not for CONDEMNATION but for REWARD. This is confusing to many believers because we tend to think that just getting to heaven is all that is important. But, Jesus spoke often of the rewards that await those who even give a cup of cold water in His name. There are aspects of this second judgment that are new clearly explained in Scripture. I simply know this: EVERYTHING YOU DO FOR JESUS COUNTS FOREVER. 

Rewards are a very real part of our relationship with God. But, we must never confuse rewards for justification!  Paul said that "we must ALL appear before the judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (II co. 5:10).  This is NOT to to judge if we have done enough good works to get into heaven.  It is rather the judgment of the rewards we receive. 

This should be a great encouragement for us all to live for Jesus. Sometimes it seems that all the good things we do go unnoticed. Our acts of obedience seem to go in rewarded, while those who break the rules seem to get ahead. 

One of the greatest verses in the New Testament along these lines is I Corinthians 15:58. There we read:  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of The Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain.  YOU WILL REAP A REWARD. Jesus guarantees it. 

The book and the books will be opened. My prayer is that your name will be written in the book of life. Then, there are books. One of those many books will be your book - the book recording all the things you have done in this life. May it be a thick book full of fantastic tales of exploits you did in His Name. Your reward will be great!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Preparing for the Marriage

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Friday, December 28, 2012:  Revelation 19:1-21

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Revelation 19:7-8 (NASB)

Human history began with a marriage and will end with a marriage. In Eden, God formed man and woman and joined them together as husband and wife. Now, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, Jesus, the great bridegroom, will be joined forever with His bride, the church.

This is the great purpose of God around which He causes all things to work together for good (Rom. 8:28).  The Father determined before the foundation of the world that He would gather a Bride for His Son. All of human history rotates around this central theme.  A love relationship lies at the core of the created universe. Our God is BY NATURE, a lover, a redeemer, seeker of that which is lost.

Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to this sad, sorry old world - and we crucified Him. He and His Bride will be all that will survive the destruction of this world. But, the Father will create a new heavens and a new earth. This is our destiny if we belong to Jesus!

It is interesting to note that verse 7 says "the bride has made herself ready."  This means that the church has gotten herself ready for the Lord. Just to be clear, this does not mean JUSTIFICATION. this refers instead to SANCTIFICATION. Justification is how God makes us righteous and is purely an action of His grace apart from our works. Sanctification, however, is theories whereby God remakes us inside our so that we look like and act like Jesus. Sanctification requires our daily cooperation.

Ths bride has MADE HERSELF READY. I have over the past four decades performed countless weddings. The preparation for the wedding is always a big deal. The bride-to-be is continually busy preparing every detail looking to the day of her marriage. We ought to be the same with respect to the day we all are joined with Christ at the Marriage.

So, what is the focus of your life. Are we tied up in the trivialities of a fading world, or are we joyfully fulfilling every task with view toward our eternal destiny?  Joy lies ahead!  Purpose surrounds us now!  Like a bride in beautiful clothing, so is the church as we await our heavenly Bridegroom.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The City of Man, Part 2

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Thursday, December 27, 2012:  Revelation 18:1-24

19 And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.”  Revelation 18:19-20 (NASB)

The city of man is destined to fall. The city of God will ultimately prevail. This is the final message of St. Augustine's great work The City of God.  It is also the picture of Revelation chapters 17 and 18. Jesus spoke of this when He said, In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

So, here is an important question, "How will you react if the world undergoes a massive financial collapse?"  Certainly, I am praying that no such thing happen, but according to Scripture, a day will come in which Babylon, the great city, will crash.  Jesus told us to not let our hearts be troubled, but instead, He would give us peace in the midst of perilous times!

There are at least three major components of the collapsing city of man:

1. Unbridled sensuality (vss. 3, 7).  This is more than sexual sin.  That certainly is a major part, but also this speaks to a lifestyle given to addictive pleasures. Immorality, by definition, means the disregard of moral standards in favor of immediate gratification.

2.  Financial implosion (vss. 11-17).  I am not qualified to diagnose the monetary soundness of world currency in our day. However, I listen to the news and I hear of the demise of the euro, with a domino-affect leading to world economies teetering on disaster. I believe these rumblings are similar to those predicted in Revelation 18.

3. Human trafficking (vs. 13).  Right in the midst of this dire economic picture, we find that men have grown rich by the buying and selling of human beings.  Conservative estimates are that this is a 32 billion dollars industry. At any given moment, there are 2.4 million people being bought and sold. 80% are for sexual exploitation. Today, there are perhaps as many as 30 million human slaves most of whom will die soon under the terrible circumstances of their bondage.

It is small wonder that Holy God would bring judgment. But, in the midst of the fall of this city of man, another city is rising up. It is the city of God. His Kingdom will prevail.  Jesus has commissioned us to advance His Kingdom with truth, faith, and love. Despite the turmoil of a world gone crazy, we can have peace, joy, and power. These are exciting days in which we live. It is time for you and me to let our light shine brighter than ever. Jesus is Lord!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The City of Man, Part 1

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Wednesday, December 26, 2012:  Revelation 17:1-18

And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth. Revelation 17:18 (NKJV)

In 426 A.D., St. Augustine completed one of the greatest books of history.  He called it The City of God. In this massive work, he dealt with nearly every subject conceivable but placed them in the context of two cities - the two basic cities that constitute all of history.  They are the city of man and the city of God.

Beginning in the earliest pages of Genesis and flowing forward to the end of all things, man has chosen between two paths - two cities. The city of God is characterised by LOVE FOR GOD. The city of man is characterised by LOVE FOR SELF.

These two cities correspond spiritually and symbolically to Jerusalem and Babylon. Here in Revelation 17, Babylon is described as a harlot, a prostitute. Much has been written and said seeking to expose the true identity of this evil entity in our world. It becomes highly speculative for us to go very far down that road. We should instead deal here with that which is clear.

Babylon is THE WORLD ORGANISED AND OPERATING APART FROM GOD. Jesus spoke to us about this in His high priestly prayer found in John 17. There He says that we are IN THE WORLD (John 17:11), but we are NOT OF THE WORLD (John 17:14,16).

Three things we can conclude about this spiritual Babylon:

1.  It is SEDUCTIVE by nature. It is like a prostitute seeking to seduce. It does not seek first to use strong-arm tactics or violent force.  Rather, Babylon's method is to break your commitment by playing upon your lusts.

2.  The world operating apart from God is not neutral. It is POWERED BY THE BEAST. In that sense, there can never be such a thing as a secular state. The city of man is focused on self, but the power underneath is Satanic in nature.

3.  Babylon's aim is the DEATH OF THE SAINTS (vs. 6).  These are certainly dramatic words. It is not my intention to incite a "persecution mentality". We need not suffer from paranoia. These are simply the statements of the Word of God. The world (Babylon) is not our friend.

But JESUS IS OUR FRIEND!  And He wins. St. Augustine described an age-long conflict between two cities. The city of God will ultimately prevail. We are citizens of a new creation - heirs of an eternal kingdom. Though kings and kingdoms may rise and fall, God's Kingdom shall never fail.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Wrath of God Released

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Tuesday,  December 25, 2012:  Revelation 16:1-21

(I must begin today by saying that it is a bit unusual to be writing a reflection on the Book of Revelation on CHRISTMAS DAY!  Something more seasonal and jolly seems so much more appropriate. However, it has been my commitment to faithfully follow a disciplined reading and writing plan through the Scripture. It happens that, following the One Year Bible, one of the toughest chapters in all of Scripture falls on December 25. I will write elsewhere of the wonders and joy of Christmas. But, please take into consideration the fact that I have not intentionally ignored the celebration of our Lord's birth.)

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.”  Revelation 16:1 (NKJV)

The wrath of God is not a popular topic in our day.  It calls up images of angry preachers warning of fire and brimstone.  Ours is a day of grace, mercy, acceptance, and love. I do believe very much in the love that God has for us. However, I am very aware that God's compassion HAS A CONTEXT. The measure and magnificence of God's grace is tied the depth and depravity of our sin.  His love that redeems us is coupled with His wrath that must judge and punish sin.

Holy God MUST rain down the severest of punishments upon the rebellion of man!  It is so bad that it demands THE CROSS!  He poured out furious wrath and punishment upon His Son who took our place. Jesus absorbed God's holy wrath against our sin. This is the measure of God's love for us!

But we must remember, God's wrath against sin is mediated in the death of His Son. What then is the destiny of fallen man and fallen creation APART from Jesus?  All that refuse the Son are already under condemnation.  John says "the wrath of God abides" on all those who reject God's merciful, atoning work in Christ. Jesus provides the way out. This is the hard truth.

There will come a day in world history, when God will come no longer as merciful redeemer, but as righteous judge. He will vindicate and prove His righteousness before the nations. Revelation 16 is a description of that awesome day.  The writer of Hebrews speaks of this when He say,  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  Hebrews 10:31 (NKJV). God will judge the world.  Because of that, He calls all men everywhere to repent!

It is interesting that the judgments of Revelation 16 are aimed at mankind, but take the form of environmental and health-related catastrophes. There is run-away pollution, skin cancer presumably due to ozone layer deterioration, drought, and freak weather. Sounds like our day!

It is important to note that somehow these natural disasters do not affect God's people. Some believe we will be raptured out before their onset. I do not believe that. I do, however, believe that we are not appointed for God's wrath (I Thess. 5:9). If we are in Christ, He will somehow protect us IN THE MIDST of those perilous days. Therefore, we can always rejoice. Our God is near. The time is short. Our Lord comes!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Song of Deliverance

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Monday, December 24, 2012: Revelation 15:1-8

And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying:  “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty!  Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!  4 Who shall not fear You, and glorify Your name?  For You alone are holy.  For all nations shall come and worship before You,  For Your judgments have been manifested.”  Revelation 15:2-4 (NKJV)

Moses and Israel were in the test of their life. They were out of Egypt, but now trapped at the Red Sea. Behind them the armies of Pharoah were fast approaching will intent to kill. Before them was an impassable body of water. This great deliverance story was about to end in destruction. 

Have you ever felt that way?  Certainly, God has done awesome things for you in the past. He has been your deliverer.  But now the path has led to a "box canyon" with no way out. You feel trapped and it seems Satan has got the upper hand. 

It was in this situation that Moses told Israel, "STAND STILL AND SEE THE SALVATION OF THE LORD!" (Exodus 15)  God loves to lead us into places that are impossible by human standards, and there to show His mighty power. 

As history proceeds toward its climax, this will be an important pattern. While Satan's forces seem so strong, there will be a people who overcome every attack.  They will stand in security while the world falls apart.  Scripture says that they will sing the song of Moses. 

The parting of the Red Sea is one of the best known miracles of the Old Testament. As Moses simply held up his staff, God came down and made a way where there ad been no way. God's people walked across on dry ground!  The miracle that saved them also proved to be the miracle tar destroyed their enemies. 

Then, all Israel sang a song. It was a deliverance song - a victory song. God is today giving you a song lie that, too. 

The picture of the end-times is not one of fear and defeat. It is one of singing and victory. We are standing on holy ground. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

God's End-Time People

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Sunday, December 23, 2012: Revelation 14:1-20

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads.  Revelation 14:1 (ESV)

As we read the Book of Revelation, we continually must make decisions concerning the symbolism.  Is it literal or figurative?  If it is purely symbolic, what does the symbolism mean?  Is it speaking about things that have already happened or things yet to happen?

Such is the case concerning this picture of 144,000 believers standing on Mount Zion.  Diverse groups have speculated as to the meaning.  Entire religious movements have sprung up around supposed "final interpretations."  My personal belief is that the number twelve throughout Scripture seems to represent completeness (12 tribes in Old Testament Israel and 12 apostles in the New Testament).  144,000 is 12 times 12,000.  This in some way represents the fullness of God's people as the end of the age comes upon us. 

This is exciting to me.  Here's the reason why.  I am a pastor.  My entire life is devoted to seeing God's people, the church, grow strong and vibrant.  It is my greatest hope that a powerful church will rise up in our day.  This is a vision.  It is a hope.  It is a desire to see God's people doing God's work in God's way!  They are full of joy.  They are spiritually healthy.  They are walking in one accord.  They are awesome!

Over time, the vision of a victorious church can grow a bit dim.  With all the week-in week-out set-backs, we can stop hoping.  We can settle in to a dull existence of simply surviving. 

God says that at the end of the age, there will be a complete, powerful, joyfilled people!  Richard Foster, in his great book Celebration of Discipline, states it this way: 

In our day heaven and earth are on tiptoe waiting for the emergence of a Spirit-led, Spirit-intoxicated, Spirit-empowered people.  All of creation watches expectantly for the springing up of a disciplined, freely gathered, martyr people who know in this life the life and power of the kingdom of God.  It has happened before.  It can happne again.

He goes on to call this the "breaking forth of the apostolic church of the Spirit."  Wow!  This is no weak, anemic church limping into eternity.  It is a powerful bride that has prepared herself for the Bridegroom.

So let's look further at this 144,000 -- the full expression of Christ's church at the end of the age.  It says that they have the name of Jesus and the name of the Father written on their foreheads.  I have referred to this in an earlier blog (A Flood of Evil), but I will again say that I do not believe this is a literal mark or seal.  It speaks of something else.

A seal or mark in biblical times meant three things:  1. OWNERSHIP, 2. LOYALTY, and 3. SECURITY.
An outward mark could be like the branding of cattle.  It means "this one belongs to the maker of the mark."  It also means that the bearer of the mark has pledged allegiance to someone or something.  It's perhaps like some sports teams or military units who get the same tattoo to indicate unending unity and devotion.  Lastly, the mark is a sign to anyone who would threaten the individual bearing the mark.  It is like a badge that says "I represent someone bigger than me, and he backs me up!"

This end-time people have learned a new song.  They are the only ones who can sing it (vs. 3)!  They have forsaken all that distracts and have decided to follow the Lamb (vs. 4).  They have learned to speak straight and to walk straight (vs. 5).  It is one of the greatest experiences of life to walk with people like that.  Let's do it together!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Overcome or Be Overcome

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Saturday, December 22, 2012: Revelation 13:1-18

It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Revelation 13:7 (NKJV)

On June 6, 1994, one of the greatest battles of history was fought.  We call it D-Day, the Allied Invasion of Normandy in World War II.  In many ways, that dramatic and courageous military action turned the war and helped shape the world we know today.  Many of us have vicariously walked through those days through films such as Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and The Longest Day

In 1994, on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, PBS produced a documentary to memorialize that great battle.  They interviewed men who had fought there.  These men, now in the later years of their lives, recalled vividly the details they experienced.  Two of them stand out to me.  One was a foot soldier who stormed the beach.  With tears even after all these years, he recalled the carnage and horror as they landed and charged the embankments.  He remembered, as he looked at the devastation around him, thinking, "We're going to lose."  As he saw bullets ripping apart the Allied advance, he could not see how victory was possible.

The other soldier was a reconnaissance pilot who flew over the invasion.  From that high perspective, he could see the waves of Allied soldiers as they advanced and took out one after the other of the enemy's outposts.  As he saw this, he thought to himself, "We're going to win this thing!"

Two different views of the same battle!  The difference was proximity and perspective.  The footsoldiers who were CLOSE to carnage could feel the danger.  The closer you are to the battle, the most devastating it can seem.  I have unfortunately never been in military conflict, but I have seen people in "hand-to-hand" spiritual conflict with the devil.  In the intensity of that battle, I have often seen good people wilt as they felt overwhelmed by the attack.  We need to back up and get a higher PERSPECTIVE.

The pilot could see what the footsoldier could not.  In similar fashion, we need to see this end-time battle from a higher perspective.  We need to see from the Lord's eyes!

This 13th Chapter of Revelation tells us of the WORST PERSON OF HISTORY.  He is not even called a man.  He is referred to as THE BEAST.  In other portions of Scripture, he is the Anti-Christ or "the man of sin".  In verse 7, we find that he has the ability to tear down the people of God -- to overcome them.  We must balance this verse with verse 11 of the previous chapter.  There we read that "they overcame him!"  So which is it?  Are we the OVERCOMERS, or are we BEING OVERCOME by the enemy?

The answer is simple and profound.  Satan can destroy our bodies but he cannot destroy our souls!  He can throw us into jail, but he cannot kill our faith!  He can rip out our tongues, but he cannot keep us from proclaiming the love of God in Christ!  The only way Satan can fully wipe out believers is if they allow him to.  We do that by not availing ourselves of the protection and power of God in our own lives.  We win, but it might mean martyrdom.  "They loved not their lives unto the death."

There may be times in coming years, as Satan's forces continue to rally and grow, that you might be tempted to think, "WE'RE LOSING THIS BATTLE!"  It just looks like Satan is winning.  But, we need a HIGHER PERSPECTIVE.  Chapter 13 of Revelation tells us of the power of Satan.  But Chapters 19 and 20 tell us the end of this story -- "Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD."

I will close with the word of that great Reformer Martin Luther.  His greatest hymn is "A Mighty Fortress in Our God."  The third verse goes as follows:

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us. 
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Overcoming the Real Devil

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Friday, December 21, 2012:  Revelation 12:1-17

10 Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Revelation 12:10-11 (NKJV)

A recent Gallup poll tells us that 70% of Americans believe in a real devil.  There is great variety in the way they see this devil to exist and operate -- perhaps a personal being, perhaps an impersonal evil force -- but, the vast majority agree that there is the evil which we call the devil. 

Many people cringe at the thought of facing this devil.  He seems so powerful and intimidating.  He is a nightmare figure inciting the worst fears of human existence.  Just as God is absolute pure goodness, Satan is intrinsic, undiluted evil. 

Satan was once a powerful angel, but he invented evil by rebelling against God.  He fell and led a host of other angelic being in his rebellion.  This is described in the symbolism of Rev. 12:3-4 when it says that the dragon (Satan) drew a third of the stars (angels) of heaven down with him.  Satan sought to broaden his rebellion and a war broke out in the heavens (vs. 7).  This is cosmic and dramatic in nature!

All the evil that ever afflicted humankind has an origin.  It all has a source.  The prince of darkness seeks to steal, kill, or destroy (John 10:10) the good creation of our good God.  Like the dragon of Rev. 12, he stands ready to devour anything that God births (Rev. 12:4). 

This entire topic of the invisible war bears our ongoing study and attention.  There are weapons that God has given us (II Co. 10:4) so that we can prevail.  There is armor that He offers us (Eph. 6:13-18) that we need to use.

I want here to focus on perhaps the most fundamental aspect of this war that begins in the heavens and seeks to reak havoc on the earth.  Satan is called "the accuser of our brethren" (vs. 10).  ACCUSATION and CONDEMNATION is Satan's foremost weapon.  He deals in lies.

I really believe that Satan has no power whatsoever of himself.  He is, in fact, a weakling and a wimp in his intrinsic being.  He, however, has a big mouth.  He knows how to speak quite well.  He seduces with lies.  He has NO POWER unless we believe his lies.  We need never feel the need to arm-wrestle with the devil.  We need never feel the need to "muscle up" in man's strength. 

We deal Satan the most fatal blow when we simply believe the truth.  What truth are we talking about?  "They over came him (Satan) by THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB and by the WORD OF THEIR TESTIMONY."  When we believe in the power of Jesus' blood, we cut the legs out from under the devil.  When we confess God's truth, we are driving out the lie.

This seems so simple, but it is the most important lesson we will ever learn in terms of spiritual victory.  The third part of the spiritual arsenal is "they did not love their lives to the death."  Self-preservation is one of the most basic human instincts.  We automatically tend to take care of Number One.  When we lay down our lives for Jesus -- when we deny ourselves -- we are doing one of the wisest things we could ever do in terms of our well-being.

Some have called this the cost of discipleship.  It is, however, far more that a COST.  It is a BENEFIT and a BLESSING.  We can live above this being called Satan.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Two Prophetic Witnesses

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Thursday, December 20, 2012: Revelation 11:1-14

And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.  Revelation 11:3 (ESV)

Two days before He was tried and crucified, Jesus was asked about the signs of the end of the age.  We can find this discussion in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.  It is a fascinating study to unpack all the various signs of the Second Coming of Jesus and how they play out in our world today. 

It is my conviction that the most important sign that Jesus gave was, "this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14, Mark 13:10).  While the various other signs (wars, earthquakes, pestilence, etc.) are fascinating and very noteworthy, the one sign that must command the attention of the church is the GREAT COMMISSION.  We cannot know for sure when the end will come. These things are known only to the Father.  But we DO KNOW that we are be His witnesses right up until the end (see Acts 1:6-8).

God always sends His witnesses, His messengers before He does something.  There are always prophets that precede God's mighty acts.  Malachi 3:1 says, "Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me".  Later in Malachi, He identifies this messenger, "Behold I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal. 4:5).  John the Baptist was just such a prophet, a forerunner to prepare the way for Jesus (Matt. 11:12-14).  God always sends prophetic ministry out just prior to His mighty acts of redemption or judgment!  I believe just such a mighty prophetic ministry is being released today!  God is about to do something!

Here in Revelation 11, we find this happening.  God sends two prophetic witnesses.  Their words and their work are part of the end of the age.  They prophecy TO THE NATIONS.  Scripture says that all the "peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations" (vs. 9) will hear and see their message.

Much discussion has arisen about who these two witnesses might be.  Frankly, it is near impossible for us to answer that with finality.  Are these literal, flesh-and-blood men who will minister in coming days?  Or, are they symbolic, representing some larger aspect of biblical truth?  Some have said these are the Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament and the New Testament.  From the description of the works they perform, they seem very similar to Moses and Elijah.  They turn rivers into blood and release plagues (Moses).  They call down fire and can shut up the heavens so that rain is withheld (Elijah).  These are also the two men who met with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration in Luke 9.

Regardless of how you see these two, here are some observations that we can be sure of.  And I will add a few personal opinions alongside:

1.  God is speaking prophetically in our day.  His Word is going forth.  There is a mighty release of truth, warning, and invitation that we must hear.

2.  This message and ministry will be met with violent opposition.  The battle of the end of the age is fueled on one side by a "beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit" (vs. 7) and on the other by the power of God that releases signs and wonders to confirm the word preached.

3.  The ministry of the Holy Spirit CANNOT be stopped until it fulfills its objective (vss. 5,7).  We can take great courage and assurance from the promise that God is with us!  This Gospel of the Kingdom WILL go forth.  It can't be stopped.  It's like a gigantic bulldozer plowing through the earth.

4.  All setbacks will only be setups for the final victory.  At this point, I will add a few personal observations that might seem a bit far out.  (I will admit that I am taking some aspects of our current world picture and "reading them into" this story, so my subjective interpretations should be taken as such.)  The two witness die!  They are killed -- temporarily -- in "the great city which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt" (vs. 8).  What does this mean?  By most interpretation, Sodom refers to the dual cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 13 and 14).  This is synonymous with the wickedness of a culture permeated by homosexuality.  Egypt might well represent the Islamic world that has become so aggressive in our day.  If this were true, the two witnesses will appear to die in defeat before two forces: the homosexual agenda and militant Islam.

5.  God always wins.  In the midst of what seems to be defeat, GOD WILL RAISE UP HIS WITNESS SUPERNATURALLY.  This, in my opinion, is a great end-time revival to bring one last engathering of souls before final judgment falls.

This eleventh chapter of Revelation has been said to be both the most difficult and also the most important chapter in this great book.  It is difficult because it contains dramatic symbolism for which there can be no sure certainty of interpretation.  It is important because it contains a summary of the entire book.  These things are written for our ENCOURAGEMENT.  Jesus wins!  His witness will prevail!  He might not come again for another thousand years -- I do not know -- but, this I DO KNOW:  We live in exciting days and His Truth is marching on.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Little Book

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Wednesday, December 19, 2012: Revelation 10:1-11

10 Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. Revelation 10:10 (NKJV)

Twice the angel tells John, "Take the book" (vss. 8 and 9).  Revelation from God is not something that is forced on us.  We must reach out and "take it."  There are many things that God simply gives us and we only receive.  But then there are other things that we must aggressively take. 

All advance in the Kingdom of God is based on desire.  Christ's Kingdom is not advanced by the lackadaisical, by the whimsical, by the casual sampler.  It will be advanced by those who reach out and take hold of His book, His truth, His purposes.  Jesus Himself said this in Matthew 11:12 when He said, "the Kingdom is God is advancing violently and violent men TAKE IT BY FORCE." 

If you truly DESIRE the be in the middle of God's great purposes, you can be there.  But, you must reach out and take what He offers you.  Many have questioned, "What is this 'little book' spoke of in this passage?"  By no means do I mean to give a final answer, but these are my thoughts.

There is a BIG BOOK which is God's great, world-wide unstoppable will and purpose.  It is forever settled in heaven.  Then there is a LITTLE BOOK which pertains to each one of us.  There is a LITTLE BOOK which has your name on it.  God tells YOU PERSONALLY to reach out and take this LITTLE BOOK.  It is His plan and destiny for your life.  It is wonderful!

Almost always, the beginning of a thing is the best part.  All visions start with great zeal and excitement.  When we first find out what God has planned for us, we are always filled with joy and optimism.  It is "as sweet as honey."

But, for every one of us, the working out of that vision will cost us our lives.  It will lead us in paths that are both difficult and trying.  It will develop into a situation somewhat like "holding a tiger by the tail."  If you hang on, it will drag you around and bruise you.  But, if you let it go, it will turn on you and devour you!  Such is the CALL OF GOD.  Such is the LITTLE BOOK. 

The little book is sweet to the taste, but it becomes difficult in the stomach.  This is the cost of discipleship.  This is the path of the servant.  This is the way of the warrior.  This is also the pattern for all those who will ultimatley prevail in the advance of Christ's Kingdom. 

This road is not for the faint-hearted.  It is not for the fearful or frail.  Today is a time for end-time warriors to rise us and "take the little book".  Even though it may lead to difficulty, we will always find that the Lord is our reward.  Dispite the bitterness of the battle, the Lord Himself is the bread of life that fills us to overflowing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Flood of Evil

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Tuesday, December 18, 2012: Revelation 9:1-21

He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. Revelation 9:2-4 (ESV)

As the end of time draws upon us, Scripture prophecies that an incredible spiritual battle will take place.  Forces of evil will be released in unprecedented fashion.  This is part of the scenario that will usher in the end of the age and the return of the Prince of Peace. 

The Book of Revelation gives vivid imagery.  Hell's mouth is opened up and out comes a swarm, a host of demonic creatures that are aimed at injuring men.  This is like a flood of evil.  This may seem like a pattently Christianized, religious view of our world.  But, others who are far from Christianity have made similar assessments of our culture.

In 1990, feminist scholar Dr. Camille Paglia of Philadelphia wrote the following words:

"History's most glaring error has been its assertion that Judeo-Christianity defeated paganism.  Paganism has survived in a thousand forms of sex, art, and now the modern media.  Christianity has made adjustment after adjustment, ingeniously absorbing its opposition (as during the Italian Renaissance) and diluting its dogma to change with changing times.  But a critical point has been reached.  With the rebirth of the gods in the massive idolatries of popular culture, with the eruption of sex and violence in every corner of the ubiquitous mass media, Judeo-Christianity is facing its most serious challenge since Europe's confrontation with Islam in the Middle Ages.  The latent paganism of western culture has burst forth again in all its demonic vitality."

These are the words not of the Book of Revelation but of a secularist, a non-believer, a professor in a major U.S. university.  Her thoughts are incredibly parallel to Revelation 9.  We are witnessing a flood straight from the bottomless pit that issues forth to do damage to us and our families.

At this point you might think me to be very negative and the situation extremely perilous.  But, there is another side to this story.  Once again, the imagery of Revelation comes into play.  There is mention of God's blood-bought servants being "sealed on their foreheads" (Rev. 7:3 and 9:4).  What does this mean?  Is this a literal stamp on the forehead?  I do not think so. 

This seal is the Word of God filling our minds.  The seal on the forehead is symbolic of our heads, our brains, our thinking processes.  We need to have a biblical worldview.  We need our minds filled with God's truth. It is important to have our hearts born again and regenerate, but our MINDS ARE WHERE THE BATTLE TAKES PLACE. 

Filling your mind with God's Word is the defense against the demonic attack.  They cannot harm you!  This vast attack from Hell is unable to take down anyone who stands in God's truth.  This is our GREAT DEFENSE.  We can overcome any attack by the power of God's Word filling our minds.

So, in closing, your time in the Bible each day is far more than just a nice devotional time to help you have peace.  It is the filling of your mind with the truth that will keep you strong in the midst of a flood of evil.  This is like a vacine in the midst of a plague.  Praise God for the deliverance and victory He can give us in the middle of world being overrun.  And we shall prevail.  We shall stand with Jesus.  His victory is already secure.  It is our job to stand in that victory daily.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Carols: "Joy to the World"

Here are the notes from yesterday's message at New Life Community Church.  The series is CHRISTMAS CAROLS.  This is the third message in the series and is entitled "Joy to the World."  If you desire to listen to this message please go to our website at  God bless.

Christmas Carols, Part 3                                                       Sunday, December 16, 2012
 “Joy to the World”

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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. Luke 2:8-10 (NKJV)

28 he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:  29 “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation 31 Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, 32 A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”  Luke 2:28-32 (NKJV)

33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against 35 (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  Luke 2:33-35 (NKJV)

History of “Joy to the World”
Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts – other familiar hymns
1.      When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
2.      Alas and Did My Savior Bleed
3.      Come Ye that Love the Lord

History of Joy to the World

Written in 1719 by Isaac Watts based on Psalm 98.  Interestingly, this is the most published Christmas carol in North America, but it originally was not about Christmas.  It is about the Second Coming of Christ. 

Psalms 98
1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
    he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
    let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

The Nature of the Kingdom of God:  the NOW and the NOT YET.
The shootings in CT this week:
Facebook postings:

26    dead what is the world coming to?

“Why in this Elementary School? Why in this class of innocent children?” I’m thinking that this makes plain that no one is safe in a culture of godlessness.

So...somebody tell me again what God's sovereign, "wonderful plan" and purpose was for what happened in that school in CT today.

Vision Statements:
In their book The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner write, "Every organization, every social movement, begins with a dream. The dream or vision is the force that invents the future." The following corporate vision statements, representing some of the dreams for various Fortune 500 companies, can challenge the church to ask, "What is Christ's dream or vision for our church?"
  • Avon—"To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service, and self-fulfillment needs of women—globally."
  • Amazon—"To be earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."
  • Harley Davidson—"To fulfill dreams through the experiences of motorcycling."
  • Starbucks—"To share great coffee with our friends and help make the world a little better."
  • Hilton—"To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality."
  • J.C. Penny—"To be America's shopping destination for discovering great styles at compelling prices."
  • CVS Caremark—"To improve the quality of human life."
  • Johnson & Johnson (for a department that designs & manufactures orthopedic implants)—"Restoring the joy of motion"
  • Kraft Foods—"To make today delicious."
  • Toys 'R' Us—"To put joy in kids' hearts and a smile on parents' faces."
  • Weyerhaeuser Company—"To release the potential in trees to solve important problems for people and the planet."

The Vision of Christmas:

1.     Let earth receive her KING
Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;

26 But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.  Hebrews 9:26-28 (NIV)

2.     Let the whole earth WORSHIP Him
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,

19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. … 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Romans 8:19, 22 (NIV)

3.     He breaks the CURSE
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.  Galatians 3:13-14 (ESV)

4.     He will PROVE His righteousness
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.  He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.  Isaiah 42:3-4 (ESV)

One Last Point:
Let every heart prepare Him room,