Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Fascinating Study on God's Right Hand

We've heard it countless times before -- "God's right hand".  It's all over Scripture.  But what does it mean?  Typically, it has nothing to do with seating arrangement and everything to do with authority.  It is where the saying "my right hand man" comes from.  If you are at someone's "right hand", you are working under the authority of the one you represent.

We know from many verses in the New Testament that Christ is now seated at the right hand of God.  I won't post all of them, but here are some examples:

Matthew 26:64~
Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Mark 16:19~
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.

Acts 2:33~
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

Acts 5:31~
God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

Acts 7:55~
But he (Stephen), full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Romans 8:34~
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Ephesians 1:20~
that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

Colossians 3:1~If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 1:3~
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Okay, so what does all this mean?  It means that CHRIST has been given all authority by God the Father to "sit down at His right hand".  There are not two or three Thrones in Heaven, just the one Throne of God, and Jesus is sitting there.  So, too, is the Father.  But Christ has been given all the authority, and He is equal to God. 

Once this concept is established, take a walk through the Old Testament and find the verses that mention God's right hand.  We know Christ was with God before His First Advent on earth.  Therefore, Christ was always at God's right hand.  If this is the case, many many verses open up to a new understanding.  And the book of Psalms is amazingly prophetic!

Psalm 16:11~
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

This verse goes amazingly hand-in-hand with Ephesians 1:3, which states we have every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.  Christ is the fullness of joy!

Psalm 17:7~
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand

This verse even calls God "Savior", who hides His children from adversaries in Christ.

Psalm 18:35~
You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.
This Psalm says God's right hand supports him and gave him salvation.

Psalm 20:6~
Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand.
Who saves mankind?  Christ!  Who's the saving might of God's right hand?  CHRIST!

Psalm 21:8-9~
8 Your hand will find out all your enemies;
 your right hand will find out those who hate you.
 9 You will make them as a blazing oven
 when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
 and fire will consume them.
WOW.  The Second Coming is in Psalm 21!  Christ Himself will return and ferret out the wheat from the chaff.  Read the account in Revelation again when Christ descends from the heavens with His Bride and His Host behind Him!

Psalm 44:3~
for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them.
Salvation belongs to our God, by His right hand, not their own arm.

Psalm 45:9~
daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
I LOVE this Psalm.  It is a lovely picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church.  Who stands at the right hand of Christ?  His CHURCH!  

Psalm 48:10~
As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is filled with righteousness.
Kind of self explanatory.  :P

Psalm 60:5~
That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer us!
Salvation is through Christ alone, as there is no other name under Heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved!

Psalm 63:8
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
Again, Christ upholds those who call upon Him.

Psalm 74:10-11
10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
 Is the enemy to revile your name forever? 
11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
 Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!
I have half a mind to believe this Psalm is calling for the Second Coming!  How long is God going to wait before He sends His Son back, making His enemies His footstool??

Psalm 80:17
But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
Who is the "man at God's right hand"?  CHRIST!

Psalm 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.
Again, by Christ, salvation comes!

Psalm 110:1~The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
The LORD (Yahweh) says to my Lord (Yeshua) - this was David talking.  David was the KING of Israel.  The highest you could go in authority.  Then who else is Lord over David but the Messiah?  And how can even the Messiah be Lord over David unless He is also GOD?

Psalm 110:5
The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
Lord (Yeshua) in small letters does not mean Yahweh, but rather, the Messiah.  This is also a Second Coming verse.  The Messiah comes to shatter kings when He descends to claim His Kingdom.

Getting tired yet?  But wait, there's more!

Song of Solomon 2:6~
His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!
The Song of Songs is allegory for Christ and His Bride.  It is a love story between Him and His Church.  Therefore, when read in that light, Christ, God's right hand, embraces the woman, or the Church, in love.

Isaiah 48:13~
My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.
In Isaiah, we get a remarkable confirmation of John 1:3 - "All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.", as well as Hebrews 1:2 - "Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds".  It's amazing what we can discern when we have the right "glasses"!

Lamentations 2:3-4~
He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around.
He has bent his bow like an enemy, with his right hand set like a foe; and he has killed all who were delightful in our eyes in the tent of the daughter of Zion; he has poured out his fury like fire.
This is a sad, sad Scripture.  In it, we see a prophecy of God removing His right hand (the Messiah) from the Jews and handing His people over to the enemy because they did not believe.  Instead, God gave the Messiah to a people who would honor Him - the Gentiles.  The "burning flame" spoken of is likely when Jerusalem (and the Temple of God) was razed by the Romans in 70AD.  The punishment for forsaking the Holy One of God was to be scattered among the nations for millenia.  It is only until recent times we have seen Israel reborn as a nation (1948), thus fulfilling Isaiah 66:7-8.

Matthew 20:23~
He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
And finally, we have Christ's own words, given to the mother of James and John, who'd asked Christ if her boys could sit on His right and left sides in His Kingdom.  But Christ answered with a cryptic reply.  What does He mean, "for those whom it has been prepared"?

He is speaking of His Church.

Revelation 3:21 confirms this by saying - "The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne."

This one verse is revolutionary in understanding our FULL INHERITANCE in Christ.  We have established that Christ sat down at the right hand of God.  This means He has all the authority of God.  Christ grants His CHURCH to sit at HIS right hand, thus giving the CHURCH all the authority of CHRIST.

This is amazing.  Astounding.  Something every Christian needs to understand.  We're not just purchased out of Hell, but given a GLORIOUS seat in the heavenlies, right next to Christ, who is right next to the Father.  Not even the angels can boast of that!

Ephesians 2:4-6 says: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Hallelujah, brethren!  We are seated at the right hand of Christ, and every blessing and promise given to the Messiah is also given to us, His Church.  He is One with us, as a husband is one flesh with a wife and as a head is one flesh with its body.  When we accept Him, we become like Him.  Not "gods", but sons of God, and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

This study is by no means exhaustive.  There are many other Scriptures about God's right hand.  For the sake of length, I did not post all of them.  But through this study, we can know and understand that we have a wonderful, amazing, awesome, inspiring, and absolutely BEAUTIFUL GOD!!!  And not only that, but He gives us a wonderful, amazing, awesome, inspiring, and absolutely BEAUTIFUL inheritance in His Son, to Whom He has given us, for the praise of His Glory!  (Ephesians 1:12)

I cannot wait.  I cannot wait.  I cannot wait!!!  \O/


Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Resurrection From the Dead

Resurrection from the dead - what does that mean? A lot of people might assume this post will be about Christ's resurrection.  But I'm going to talk about the Resurrection of the Church. 

This is when Christ returns, and He resurrects those who love Him to Heaven in spiritual, glorified bodies.  It doesn't matter if they're dead or alive, they're resurrected and taken home.  The very same bodies we inhabit now we'll inhabit then, but we'll be clothed with Christ's own righteousness.  Those believers who are still alive when this happens will never taste death.  They're glorified alive and taken straight to Heaven.  You can read about this event in 1 Corinthians 15 and the short books of 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

I was thinking about the Resurrection when a thought struck me.  That is not the moment we're resurrected.  It IS the moment we overcome death, but it's not when we're resurrected.

What sense does that make?
Ephesians 2:1-3 says: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Before we believed, we were dead in our sins.  This is what Jesus meant when He told the man who had to bury his father to "let the dead bury their own dead."  (Matthew 8:22)  He wasn't being heartless to this man, He was making a point.  The dead are just that -- dead.  They cannot do anything.  And those who were burying this man's father were dead in their sins.  They were not believers, and thus, not alive.

Christ told Nicodemus that one must be born again in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (John 3:1-15).  We've heard that phrase "born again" countless times.  Some of us don't understand what it means.  It's quite simple, really.  When we first believe, God does a supernatural work on our hearts.  We are instantly free from sin because our punishment was taken upon Christ.  In its place is His righteousness.  (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Being "born again" means that God's grace saves us, and also creates a new heart within us, one that hates sin and loves righteousness.  This is done so Christians don't run amok and sin to their hearts' content.  It is also to prove we are new creations in Christ.  We are no longer creatures born under the first Adam, but under the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45).

If the second death is eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14), then the second birth is eternity in Heaven.

Therefore, our resurrection from the "dead" happened the hour we first believed.  We weren't dead bodily, but we were dead spiritually.  And that is the resurrection that counts!  When Christ gives us our new bodies upon our glorification, it is because we were first resurrected from spiritual death to spiritual life through the second birth!

Christ Himself proves this idea when He says:
"And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:  ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” ~~Matthew 22:31-32
This revelation stunned the crowd He was with.
And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.  ~~Matthew 22:33
Why is this so revolutionary?  Because Christ was telling them that their Patriarchs were alive!  They weren't dead.  Their bodies might be dust, but their spirits lived on. 

Christ came to give life.  Spiritual life.  This is why those who believe aren't necessarily afraid of death because they know their destination.  Death is merely the transition into this new Life.  But there is no life apart from Yeshua (1 John 5:12).  Therefore, if you die the first death (bodily) without Yeshua, you will suffer the second death (Revelation 20:14).  But if you are born the first birth into this world (bodily) and believe in Yeshua, you will be blessed by the second birth (John 3:1-15).

Therefore, it is belief in Yeshua that resurrects you from spiritual death.  And because of that resurrection, you will partake in the BODILY Resurrection when Christ returns for His Church.

This concept was taught by Paul in the book of Romans.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  ~~Romans 6:1-3
Christians know this as a part of doctrine, that we're baptized into Christ, which symbolizes dying and rising with Christ.  But Christians usually think of our resurrection as "The Resurrection" when our bodies are raised incorruptible.

No, the bodily resurrection follows the spiritual resurrection, which happens when we first call upon the name of Yeshua as our Lord and Savior.  When looked at this way, you could call the "second birth" (or being "born again") actually our "spiritual resurrection" from being dead IN sin to being dead TO sin.  

You are literally starting a new life.  In that moment, you have overcome death and given LIFE in Yeshua!  You are spiritually reborn and remade.  How amazing is that?  God recreates you and births you again into a new being.  Not by being bodily born again, as Nicodemus mistakenly thought, but in your spirit.  
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."  ~~Ephesians 2:10

This is the only way the Holy Spirit of Yahweh can live within our hearts.  God can only dwell in perfection.  That can only happen when our sins are removed and the righteousness of Yeshua replaces them.

Through this "second birth", Paul says:
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus."  ~~Ephesians 2:4-6
How can we "be raised" in the past tense if our physical bodies are still flesh and not glorified?  Because our resurrection literally happened the moment we accepted and believed!

We are already alive.  Forever.  We will never taste the second death (Revelation 2:11).  When we die, we are present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).  Our spirits have been resurrected.

It is only after this resurrection to spiritual life after being dead in our sins, then comes the resurrection of our physical bodies at the end of the age (John 14:1-3).

Praise God!

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Amazing Book of Ephesians

Just recently, God's been opening my eyes to the riches in the book of Ephesians.  I've read it countless times, but I believe the Spirit has opened my eyes to read the text to the full.  I wanted to do something fun with the first chapter, so here it is -- in pictures.  :)  There might be a verse or two missing, but you get the idea.

This picture doesn't show it, but verse one actually says, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus..."  He says he's an apostle of Christ by the will of God.  He wasn't an apostle on his own faith.  Christ appeared to Saul, a Pharisee, on the road to Damascus, and asked him, "Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"  (Acts 9)  You see, Saul loved to execute Christians.  But his encounter with the Lord changed his mind -- and his name -- to Paul.  Therefore, it was GOD'S will, not his own, that he became an apostle of Christ.

This verse is mind-boggling.  I will likely remember it always since it has struck such a chord with me.  We have EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly places through Christ.  Not some, not most, but ALL.  That floors me.  Every blessing in Heaven is ours right now.  We are sons (and daughters) of the Most High.  And with that comes a GREAT inheritance.  But it's not for a future "someday", but today.  We are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).  

And we come to another glorious nugget of truth.  God chose us in Christ before He made CREATION.  That oughta humble a few of us!  Wow.  He knew me before Genesis 1:1.  He chose me in Christ to be without fault.  Let me just pause for a sec to post this pic:

Oh yeah, proclaim it!  If you're a believer, He CHOSE you before the foundations of the world!  Before He hung a single star!  Okay, let's move on.

Why did God choose us?  It has always been His plan to adopt us through Christ!  How amazing is that?  When Moses climbed Mt. Sinai, it was always God's plan to adopt you in Christ.  When Noah filled the Ark, when Solomon built the temple, when Boaz married Ruth.  ALWAYS God's plan.  That means YOU have always been God's plan as well, meaning there has never been a time in eternity-past when God didn't know you and love you.  For those of us who often wonder "why me?"  The answer is "because it gave Him great pleasure."

The Beloved is Christ.  We are accepted by God through Him.

This verse tells us HOW we are accepted through Christ -- our redemption comes through His blood by the grace of God.

The "mystery" of His will according to His good pleasure was what we just read back in verse 1:4 - the mystery was adopting us (gentiles) as sons and daughters!

Again, Paul re-iterates that God predestined us to be sons for the purpose of His will, so that we who were first to believe in Him will bring Him glory.  Seriously, how blessed are we as the Bride of Christ? Not only do we have all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, but we were CHOSEN by God, before creation, to be adopted into His family through Christ.  Being co-heirs with Christ is an astounding inheritance.  Revelation 3:21 says we will be allowed to sit on His Throne!  We have the authority of GOD behind us.  Not in the future, but right NOW.  This knowledge sheds new light on Romans 8:31 - If God is for us, who can be against us?

If we're chosen by God and called by God to be adopted children of God, then no power in this universe can stop us, because we have His authority to back us!

Because we were chosen, called, and adopted, we have thus been SEALED by the Holy Spirit, who is the promise of our redemption - our glorification upon the Rapture of the Church, also known as the Resurrection.  Being "sealed" means that nothing can break the seal.  If God chose us, called us, and adopted us, then He seals us as well, and we can never be lost to Him.

Here, Paul thanks God for the Ephesians, likely thanking Him for choosing, calling, and adopting them into His family.

Paul YEARNS for all the brethren to know what their inheritance is in Christ as children of God.  He prays for the eyes of their hearts to be opened so they can know the secrets, the intimate knowledge of this mystery, and the riches of this GLORIOUS inheritance we are given in Christ.  We're not just saved from sins, brethren.  We're elevated ABOVE the angels!  Given the very authority of Christ because we are one with Him as His Body.   We will one day become like Him in glorified bodies and rule and reign with Him in His millennial Kingdom.  We are kings. (Revelation 1:6, 1 Peter 2:9)  And He is our King.  The King of kings.  

(No pretty picture for these verses, but they couldn't be left out.  Notice Christ is seated at God's right hand in the HEAVENLY PLACES.  Where do we get all spiritual blessings from in verse 1:3?  Yup.  Christ is FAR ABOVE every other authority in the universe -- and above every name -- even in the age to come.

And here's the clencher of the entire chapter!  God placed all things under Christ's FEET and appointed Him to be HEAD over all for the church - His Body.  Does a HEAD have FEET?  No, but the BODY does!  The Body of Christ is His hands, His feet, His eyes, and His ears in this world.  We are one with Christ through the sacrifice He made for us because He became our sin and we became His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).  When we first believed, His sacrifice bonded us and sealed us to Him forever.  He has authority over us as the Head, but we are His Body, carrying out His authority in this world.  Which means, if God has placed all things under His feet, they are under OURS as well, because WE ARE HIS FEET!!

I just ADORE the book of Ephesians!  And it only gets better...  Ask the Spirit to open your eyes and re-read it.  Chapter 2 is just as amazing!



Friday, August 17, 2012

The Hidden Blessings of God

One thing I've learned as a disciple of Yeshua Messiah is that He doesn't do anything "normally".  What I mean by that is everything in His Gospel, everything He has done, and will do, seems backwards to us.  God Almighty should be high and lofty, showing off His Glory, telling people how wonderful He is.  But Christ said He's gentle and humble at heart (Matthew 11:29).  How can grace be unmerited?  How can God give it freely, and to anyone?  Surely it is based on how we love Him, or our performance as a Christian?  Surely WE have something to do with our own salvation?!

But the Lord says, "No. Salvation is not YOUR work.  You are MY workmanship." (Ephesians 2:10)  Indeed, salvation belongs to our God (Revelation 7:10).

This line of "backwards" logic got me thinking.  All throughout the Bible, we're told to rejoice no matter the circumstance.  We're shown an example in Paul, who suffered his way through shipwrecks, snakebites, whippings, and imprisonment, all the while singing HYMNS to God.  How many of us would shake our fists at Him for all He's heaped upon our heads?  How many of us would wonder what we did to incur God's wrath?  But no, Scripture says, "Count yourself blessed" when you're persecuted in Yeshua's name (Matthew 5:11).  Paul says to "Rejoice always" and "give thanks in all circumstances" for it is "the will of God in Messiah Yeshua for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

It would seem this is another instance of something that is backwards to us.  Could it be that sufferings are actually blessings in disguise?

I meditated on this idea for quite awhile.  It really would seem Scripture is telling us this.  I once took the idea behind rejoicing in suffering to mean that we should take everything that happens to us with a smile, because NOTHING can take our inheritance in Christ.  God still looks upon us in favor and we are still loved as sons and daughters of the Most High.  And surely, that is a wonderful way to look at trials.

But there's another layer here.  The more I thought on it, the more it became clear.  God teaches us through trials.  They are His way of refining us and disciplining us.  But what is the end goal?  To become like Christ.  To be conformed into His image (Romans 8:29).  Why doesn't God take us home to Heaven when we wish to be taken out of this world?  Why would He keep us here on earth when Heaven is so much MORE?

God revealed to me that this temporal life is the ONLY place we can learn humility.  It is the only place we can learn how to be totally dependent on God.  Think about this.  Heaven is a perfect place.  There is no sorrow, no pain, no sickness, no death.  It's a utopia.  God calls it our "rest".  There, we see God Face-to-face.  No longer can we rely on faith.  There, pride doesn't overcome us, and thus we cannot deepen our relationship with God by repenting and striving for change.  There, sickness doesn't overcome our bodies, so we don't learn to lean on God's strength when we are weak.

I don't believe we'll ever stop learning in Heaven, but our capacity for learning things through trials will be gone.  When we each leave this world for the next, we are as prepared for our spiritual lives as God wants us to be.

The person we are now is vastly different then the person we were when we were children.  We grew, matured, and left childish things behind (1 Corinthians 13:11).  I believe it is the same for maturity in the spiritual realm.  God keeps us here in the temporal world to mold us and shape us into the mature, spiritual person we will one day become.  Because once we cross over into the next world, we can no longer learn the lessons we learn here through painful experience.

In this way, when seen in this light, God is merciful for letting us remain in the flesh for as long as we can.  It's backwards, I know.  When a person is being wasted away by cancer, when the ends just aren't meeting, when enemies scoff, the roof leaks, your husband leaves you, or you survive a horrific car accident, they are all God's mercies.

Unless a person is eaten away by pride and they don't understand how God is moving in their life, they will get closer to the Lord in their suffering.  Pain brings us to such a point that we cling to Christ's robes.  There's no hope anywhere else.  There's no one left to turn to.  No magical safety net.  In that place, we're right where God wants us to be.  He can shape us, teach us, mold us, and create us into the mature spiritual being He wishes us to be when His Kingdom comes.

I've often wondered why God saw fit to give me a lonely childhood.  My parents divorced when I was 12, and I spent my nights, every night, alone in my house until I was 18.  My mom left, and my dad worked the swing shift at a casino.  I had no one.  God found me early, and kept me close.  In those tender years, He taught me how to never let go of Him.  He taught me that He is my Best Friend.  He taught me that He looks after me.  In short, He made me lonely so that I could know the FULLNESS of knowing Him.

When I was a kid, I broke my wrist in three places.  When I grew up, I had trouble with the ligaments.  Eventually, I had to have surgery on it.  Then, the very next year, I contracted cellulitis in my leg, which gave me a huge, purple scar on my calf.  In the grand scheme of things, these aren't scenarios that cannot be lived through.  But I often thought...WHY is this happening to me?

In the middle of it all, I was PRAYING.  I was on my knees (figuratively with the cellulitis lol) all the time, wanting to know what was going on, asking God to take my pain, fully leaning on HIM.

My trials with my wrist and my leg taught me patience.  It took months before I got the surgery on my wrist and months before the pain went away in my leg.  They taught me perseverance.  I wasn't going to let them get me down.  They taught me endurance.  When I thought I couldn't take anymore, I plodded on.  They built my faith.  I couldn't see the end-goal, but I was determined to trust and leave it in God's hands.

They taught me humility, because now I have scars in both places.  Not too pretty to look at.  But despite it all, God still loves me.  And despite it all, my faith survived.  I still love God.  And oddly, even more so.  Sound a little backwards?

In the end, when you look at that list -- patience, perseverance, endurance, faith, humility, love -- Who does that remind you of?


Could it be that pain, trials, sickness, persecution....  are BLESSINGS?  Is this what Paul was trying so hard to convey in his Epistles?  Is this why martyrs sing on their way to die?  Is this why we should count it all as LOSS in order to gain Christ?  Is THIS how God can take what the enemy means for evil and use it for good?

Is our good to become more like Yeshua?

In this, I believe it is so.  It's hard to grasp, but when you do, all kinds of new possibilities to worship open up for you.  Your faith will never waiver in the hard times.  Everything that is happening to you, either good or bad, is a blessing from God, shaping you into the person you will one day become when you cross into Glory.  Shaping you into the reflected image of the glorified Christ.



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Abiding in Yeshua

What does it mean to abide in Yeshua?  "Abide", according to Merriam Webster online, means to wait for, to endure without yielding, to bear patiently, to accept without objection, to remain stable or in a fixed state, to continue in a place, to conform to, to acquiesce in.

In other words, you live where Yeshua lives.  You follow in His footsteps, you do what He does.  You love the world as He loved.  Abiding is not giving the Lord lip service, nor is it visiting Him every now and again like you would a mere acquaintance.  It's not praying only when you need something or claiming to be a Christian yet having no evidence of His teachings in your life.

So what does abiding look like?  Christ gave us an illustration of abiding in the Gospel of John, through the Vine and the branches.

Think for a moment about the Vine and the branch.  The branch doesn't get sustenance from the soil.  The branch is not the entire plant.  The branch only lives because it is grafted onto the Vine.  Where does the branch's food and water come from?  Where does it's energy come from?  Upon what does it depend?

The Vine.

And Christ goes even farther than this, saying it is only by our dependence on the Vine that we can bear fruit.  The fruit of the Spirit can be found in Galatians 5:22-23, which says: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

These are the markings of a true Christian.  Showing these fruits to the world when you're not a believer is a daunting task indeed.  Pride and self-righteousness will always get in the way at some point.  But when a believer abides in Yeshua, they begin to become like Him.  They learn of His humility and what once was a hindrance now becomes a joy.  There is no more selfishness in service, only the joy of giving.  When your focus is off yourself and onto Him, when you realize you are just the branch but HE is the VINE, your worldview shifts to what is truly important.  Your happiness stems, not in your circumstance, but in your security in Him.

You become thankful for all that Christ has given you.  You realize that apart from Him, there is nothing.  As the mere branch, you know if you were cut off from the Vine, you would wither and die.  There is no hope of growing roots and becoming a vine yourself.

When you see yourself as a branch abiding in the Vine, you begin to realize you are LIKE the Vine!  Only a grape branch can grow from a grapevine.  You cannot have a tomato branch on a grapevine.  Therefore, the whole point of abiding in the Vine is to become like the Vine.  And the only way to become like the Vine is to experience His goodness, mercy, and peace for yourself, which is found in communing regularly with the Vine.

But abiding isn't easy.  The Vine-dresser might come along and prune you every now and again.  When you stray too far away from the Vine or when you start to grow weird leaves that aren't of the Vine.  Sometimes, however, pruning is necessary in conforming you into His image.  Humans are a fickle folk.  We don't learn many lessons unless we've lived though them.  It's the lessons that we have hands-on experience with that we remember the most.

Therefore, we must know what it's like to be lonely before we can truly pant after God as our only friend.  We must know what it's like to stumble and fall so that He can lift us up.  We must know when we are weak so we can lean upon His strength.  We must become dependent so that He can provide our needs.  We must go through the desert alone to perfect our faith that God never leaves us.

Perhaps this is why there is pain and suffering in the world -- to teach us greater Truths God couldn't otherwise teach us in a perfect Heaven where there is no suffering.  I think that is why the angels long to look, because they literally cannot learn the things we learn through experience. Christ knew this life is hard, sometimes overwhelmingly so.  But if we abide in the Vine, we can overcome.  The Vine protects the branch and gives it all it needs to survive.

So even if the sun burns your leaves or a drought has left you wilted, your branch is still rooted in the Vine, which can never die.  And if HE can never die, therefore neither can you.  He is your Life, He is your Love, He is your Everything.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Intimacy with God - In the Wilderness

Intimacy with God is a funny thing.  When we begin to abide in Yeshua, truly abide in Him, often we go it alone.  Even those in our family or our circle of friends who profess Christ don't want to jump off the deep end with you.  The price we pay for loving God above and beyond anything else in this world is setting ourselves apart from the world.  In that way, we become lonely, weary sojourners on a road less traveled.

We leave our comfort zones to wander into the desert in search of God's Greater Truths, His Pearl of Great Price.  Most people feel as if their spiritual walk is a dry, dusty desert.  The presence of God doesn't fall on us nearly enough.  Is He even listening?  How can we be sure?  We certainly don't feel Him in us, around us, through us.

But God, in His wisdom, has designed our relationship with Him in such a way that we must seek Him.  He promises to be found, but we must first seek.  We must first knock.  We must first ask.

God wants to be known.  He doesn't hide Himself in the shadows so that we will never know Him.  Scripture tells us in Proverbs 25:2: "It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out."  He wants us to find Him.  And in Christ, we are kings!  A royal priesthood!  As the Head of the Body, He is therefore King of kings over us all.  But many don't know or don't understand why we must search and seek out God, and why, at times, He is so hard to find.

It's all about intimacy.  It's all about love.  How can you love someone you don't know?  How can you be intimate with a stranger?  The more you knew about your fiance(e), the more you fell in love with them.  The more you knew what they were like, the easier it was to talk to them.  The more you understood them, the more you knew why they did the things they did, and the more you learned of their character, the more you began to see just how much they love you in return.  Until finally, irrevocably, you fall madly and deeply in love with them, marrying them so that they become a part of your family.  Never again will you leave them.

It is the same with our Lord.

God takes us into the wilderness to bring us to our knees.  He strips us of our pride, self-righteousness, doubt, and fear, until we have no other choice but to fall on our knees in surrender.  But this is not an evil act.  No.  It's an act of love.

It is in those dry, desolate times when you realize the only Living Water is from Him.  It is in the valley of the shadow of death you realize the only life is from Him.  It is when you're starving and wasting away that the only thing that satisfies is the Bread of Life.  I daresay we grow closer to God in our pain than in our pleasure.  No one falls to the ground, panting after God desperately at a wedding feast.  No one hungers and thirsts for Him at a rockin' party.  Your cares are frivolous and vain in those moments, with hardly a thought of the blessings before you.  All is well.  There is no need to seek.

But in the wilderness, you don't take anything for granted.  You realize just what He's given you that you now lack.  You find that any worth you have is found in Him, any hope you have comes from Him, and every single breath you take was ordained by Him as the Ruler and Sustainer of the universe.

It is only when our pride and vanity are stripped away that we can truly seek God, and likely He can only be found in the wilderness.  And yet, when we enter our prayer closets alone with God and come before His presence as the priests Christ created us to be, we come to a sparkling oasis.  The water is crisp and clean, the breeze is cool, and the shade is refreshing.  His peace washes over you and you take it in, soaking up His goodness into the very marrow of your bones.  In His presence, you become like a lizard, sunning itself on a rock, taking in the warmth, the glory, and the beauty of the Son.  His Spirit fills you like water and you overflow, pouring out His goodness onto others who are parched as you once were.

But even so, we are still in the wilderness.  We are still alone in our endeavor to know God to His fullness.  It can be a very lonely business, seeking God.  Most folks are content to skirt the desert.  They're not mad enough to wander in!  They'll be called back by friends, or worse, scoffed at for even daring to strike off on that harrowing journey.  The desert, you see, is not a very popular place.

However that is where God places us when we wish to go deeper, when we want to know more, when our hearts overflow with love for Him, when we need Him in our lives, when we have nowhere else to turn, we are alone....and yet....not alone.  The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want.  He makes us lie down in green pastures, He leads us beside the still waters -- He restores our souls.

When we find God, we've found the oasis in the desert.  We've found the peace and joy that comes in knowing Him.  But that oasis is still in the dunes, set apart from the world.  Hardly anyone finds it before giving up and turning back.  But once you find it, you don't want to leave.  He teaches you there.  He loves you there.  He reveals Himself to be all that He's promised - and that's true intimacy.  That's getting to know our glorious God.

When I'm in God's presence, there's nowhere else I'd rather be.  It wasn't long before I understood that the true desert is this world, not my search for God.  The true desolation is a life lived without Him.  Yeshua is the Shining Oasis Who saves our lives, our souls, and our hearts.  Once I realized this, I further understood St. Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: "Pray without ceasing".

Amen!  May we never leave our Shining Oasis once we've truly and completely found Him.