Friday, February 15, 2013

In the Presence of the LORD is Fullness of Joy!

This Scripture in Psalm 16:11 is so very rich with knowledge.  The above is only one third of it.  The full verse is a three parter:

You make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence, there is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand there are pleasures forever more.

I mentioned this Scripture once before in my study of God's Right Hand.  I don't know what made me think of this verse again, but I noticed something in the second part.  In God's presence is the FULLNESS of Joy.  Joy is complete in God's presence.  One is truly happy when one is before God.  This idea fascinated me and I wondered if there were other verses like it or that could be tied back to it.  So, I went on a hunt for Bible verses that talk about joy being full or joy in God's presence.

Using this text in Psalms 16:11 as our foundation for where Joy is found, let's get started!

Psalm 21:6 states: "For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence."

This chapter in Psalms is talking about the King rejoicing in the Lord's strength.  I believe this entire Psalm is a prophecy of Christ as the King of kings, but also of His Church, as we are each kings and priests of God (1 Peter 2:9).  But even here, it speaks of God's presence as our Joy.  I just find this idea fascinating.

Psalm 84:2 says, "My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God."

It doesn't quite say that God's presence is our Joy, however, it's a bit more poetic in how it says it.  Our longing is for the courts of the Lord.  We faint for it.  It's our hope, our place of rest.  And when we are IN His courts, we sing for joy to the living God.  We are fainting to get there because that is where Joy is -- in His presence.  And even in our flesh, we sing for Joy to Him.

Now we have the famous verse in Nehemiah 8:10 that says the Joy of the Lord is our strength.  I've always wondered how having Joy in God can be our strength.  But we see from the Psalms that Joy is found in His presence.  Therefore our Joy comes from being with Him.  And that gives us strength, because nothing is impossible for our God (Luke 1:37).

Then we come to John 15:11, and the very words of Christ Himself.  He says here that He's spoken these things so that His Joy may be in us and that it may be full.  What is the fullness of Joy we learned from Psalm 16:11?  God's presence.  This goes beyond Yeshua merely "being with them" in the flesh.  When the Holy Spirit indwells us at the moment we're born again, we literally have the living God inside our hearts.  He makes us His temple (1 Corinthians 6:19).  His presence is within us!  And because we have His presence with us at all times, our Joy is made full.  Think about this for a moment.  NO ONE could come into the presence of God in the Old Testament.  That was reserved only for the high priest, and only once a year on Yom Kippur when they atoned for Israel's sins as a nation.  The high priest would go into the Holy of Holies and come before the very presence of God.  But Christ has given us a tremendous GIFT in God's presence, making each one of us priests of God!  Not only are we allowed to come before Him in prayer, but He lives WITHIN us!  Our hearts are now His Holy of Holies.  Amazing.  That is why His very presence is fullness of Joy.  With Christ's atoning blood covering us, all of God's children can come before Him.

OOO a great verse!  Yeshua tells us to ask anything in His name.  When we do, our Joy is made full.  Why?  Because we come into the presence of God to pray to Him!  This doesn't have anything to do with "being happy" because God "gave you the stuff you asked for".  Our fullness of Joy comes from being with God and spending time with Him.  The more we seek His presence, the more He grants our wishes, because His will becomes our will.  And in that, our Joy is made full.  I believe Christ was subtly telling us that our inheritance as sons and daughters of God isn't in our stuff or even in Heaven; our inheritance is God Himself!  In His presence is where He created us to be.  That is the only time we feel complete.

In Christ's High Priestly Prayer, He says in John 17:13: "But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves."

Having Yeshua's Joy fulfilled in us is His very presence within us.  This is quite an eye-opening truth to realize.  He wasn't merely talking about His Joy at being God or His Joy in general, but the Joy of His very presence in our hearts. 

What is amazing about this little study of the fullness of Joy is the fact that Psalm 16:11 was preached in Peter's very first sermon!  Peter used this Psalm to prove that David spoke of the Messiah in Acts 2:28.  Here is the entire passage:

Acts 2:22-28:

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him, 
“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

Therefore, we know we're on the right track applying the words of this Psalm to Christ's own words!  The Apostle Peter even told us King David was thinking of Messiah when he wrote these words.

Finally, we come to Hebrews 12:2, one of the richest Scriptures in the Bible.  Look at what it says.  Christ went to the cross FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM.  What Joy was that?  The Joy of God's presence!  We know from Nehemiah that the Joy of the Lord is our strength.  It was Yeshua's strength as well.  As He climbed that hill to go to His death, He was panting and fainting for the courts of the Lord, like Psalms 84:2 tells us.  But He placed one foot in front of the other, enduring the cross, despite the shame, because He KNEW the Joy that was coming, the Joy of the Lord!

This is how we traverse all of life's troubles.  Romans 8:18 tells us our present suffering is NOTHING compared to future glory.  That includes the JOY of God's presence.  The FULLNESS of Joy.  Not just a part, not just a shadow.  Not some, not a little, but ALL of Joy is complete in Him.  Christ found His strength in looking toward this Joy.  Paul tells us to do the same.  And we can tap into that Joy any time we wish when we pray! 

Praise God!

This means that even when we're at our lowest point, even when we're dragging ourselves through the mud, when we feel like down is up, when we cry out to God for the pain that surrounds us, that His Joy, His presence, is our strength.  Not only being with Him, but knowing that one day, we will stand before Him in Glory, and our Joy will be complete.  We have this fullness even now, as the Spirit of Yeshua dwells within our hearts.

And it is because of this beautiful promise that we press on, we climb the hill, and we face our cross, despite the shame, knowing the Joy that's set before us.  In Yeshua's name.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Am My Beloved's and My Beloved is Mine

I have found in my walk with Yeshua that abiding in Him is more than praying a lot.  It's more than reading Scripture every day.  It's more than listening to praise, going to church, or discipling the brethren.  Abiding in Yeshua is LOVING Him.  When one truly lives by the First Great Commandment, they are abiding in Yeshua.

I'm not talking about a love we might feel for a friend or a relative.  I'm talking about a Love much, much hotter, more zeal, more passion, more unshakeable.  The only love that can compare to the kind of devotion God longs for in us is the love between a husband and wife.  Truly.  Madly.  Deeply.

Anyone can know the length and width of Christ's love.  It is the backbone of Christianity.  But one doesn't always know the DEPTH of His love, and I believe finally knowing and plumbing that depth is what true abiding is all about.

Let me just say that I'm NOT talking about Yeshua as our "boyfriend" or even thinking any improper thoughts between Him and His children.  While there should be an intense intimacy between our hearts and God's Heart, that intimacy does not involve fleshly desires.  The metaphor of the Bridegroom and the Bride exists to explain how we are bound to Him at the cross.

Marriage itself is a picture of Christ and His Church.  Ephesians 5:31-32 says: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."  We see this "one flesh" picture again when we are told Christ is the Head and we are His Body as explained in Colossians 1:18.  Our fates became "tangled", for lack of a better word.  He took our sins, we gained His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Because of this "oneness" between Christ and His Church, we share in His destiny as coheirs to Glory (Romans 8:17) and we are allowed to sit on God's Throne after our glorification (Revelation 3:21).  Because He rose from the dead, we, too, shall rise (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).  We are "one flesh" with Him.  Therefore, where He goes, His Church follows.

The moment we believe, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us.  We are told in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that our bodies become temples of the Spirit.  Paul goes on to liken our bodies to jars of clay that hold a tremendous treasure in 2 Corinthians 4:7.  How many of us have ever thought of God as our "Treasure" before?  Christ told us in Matthew 6:21 that "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Think about it.  As Christians, we have the Spirit of the Living God within us!  We can talk to Him any time we want to, and we are assured that He hears us by what Christ has done for us at the cross.  Yet how many of us treasure that privilege?  How many of us instead take it for granted, so "familiar" with God that we no longer have any reverence for Him?  Remember, it was due to our sin in the face of God's perfect Holiness that Christ had to come and die for us.  If we truly TREASURE God, our lives will reflect that.  We will abide in Him, living the abundant life Yeshua promised, and "out of our hearts will flow rivers of Living Water" (John 7:38).

But how does one come to treasure God?  It's not necessarily something you resolve to do one morning, although I'm sure you probably could.  I believe treasuring God starts with knowing how very much YOU are loved by Him.  "We love Him because He first loved us" is what the Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:19.  Therefore, truly coming to love God with a deep intimacy grows from fully understanding the Gospel.  How salvation belongs to Him alone, and not by any work of your own.  That this work is finished, and that Christ did it all for YOU specifically.  He died for His Church, but we each come to Him through a single-file narrow gate.  

Once you fully digest that the Almighty God of the Universe became a helpless baby to live a perfect life without spot or wrinkle and died in your place, then you "get it".  And I believe it is a certain grace that God bestows to come to this knowledge.  We can have the head-knowledge of the Gospel all the day long.  But the Spirit-knowledge, which includes the incredible cost to Him and the unfathomable depth of His Love for you, comes by the grace of God.  

I believe this is the meaning of Song of Solomon 8:4: "Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires."

Treasuring God is treading the deeper waters of mature Christianity.  And it does not happen until one wishes it to happen.  It is beyond the infatuation of a baby Christian, and it goes beyond the old, comfortable love of being a believer for years.  When one finally sees the true Worth, Glory, Beauty, and Majesty of God, that realization not only humbles them, but brings them to a place of absolute adoration.  

A lot of Christians don't live life this way.  It's actually not a requirement of salvation.  But it IS the abundant life Yeshua promised.  How can one love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength if He is not their Treasure?  Christ outlines what God wants in the First Great Commandment and builds His ministry around that idea.   Don't look back, He says (Luke 9:62), hate all other relationships in comparison (Luke 14:26), and don't value the idols of this world but give them all up for Him (Mark 10:21).

However one thing is for sure.  A Christian who sees God as their Treasure and knows they are God's treasure in return (Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 7:6, Malachi 3:17) is a lonely Christian.  No one understands you, no one can relate to a person who values God this much.  Even fellow Christians who claim to really love God think you might be going overboard.  You rarely get to talk about the One who lights your soul on fire.  So you don't talk much when others are around.  Everything you do is just something to pass the time until you can be in His presence again.

God becomes altogether Lovely to you, and nothing else in this world compares.  Like gazing at the sun makes you blind to what's around you, gazing at the Son of God has the same effect.  When His Glory is beheld, colors seem a little dimmer, joy seem a like brass, and the only peace you find is in Him.

Perhaps that is why God fashioned storms to have a calm, center eye.  When God is the center of your life, even though troubles and hardships might rage all around you, the sun is shining, the winds are calm, and the seas are favorable.  

He is your Treasure and you are His.  A royal diadem in His hand, a crown of beauty for your God (Isaiah 62:3), and a pillar in His Temple (Revelation 3:12).

"I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine."  ~~Song of Solomon 6:3

Consider this verse in Song of Songs for a moment.  "I am my Beloved's..."  You belong to Yeshua.  He purchased you on the cross.  Your fate is tangled with His.  Wherever He goes, you now go.  His inheritance is your inheritance, just as it would be if you married a Crown Prince.

But the flip side of that beautiful poetic coin says "...and my Beloved is mine."  The God of the whole Earth, the Creator, the Starkindler, the Lamb, the Lion, El Shaddai, Elohim, Adonai, Yahweh, Yeshua, the Lord of Hosts...  is yours.  He WANTS to be your Treasure, your All, your Everything.  HE is the Pearl of Great Price one sells everything to obtain.  HE is altogether Worthy, there is none higher.  Heaven is Heaven because HE is there.  Blessings are blessings because HE gives them.  Love is beautiful because HE is Love.  Everything good, pure, holy, humble, generous...  it is HIM!  And He is yours!  ALL yours.  Say this out loud:  "Yeshua is mine."

Do you know how RICH you are, Christian?  Within your heart is the Greatest Treasure of all.  The Treasure of treasures.  Infinite, eternal, glorious, amazing, there are no words to describe the wonder of our God.  We do not come to God to get stuff, we come to God to get more of God!  When you are at that place in your life where God sits enthroned in your heart as King of kings and nothing else satisfies but the warmth of His smile, the Love in His eyes, and His rivers of Living Water, then Yeshua has become your Treasure, and you have just barely begun to crack open the gilded chest of Heaven's infinite riches.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Study on Baptism by Fire

I want to start this study with the words "For Your Discernment".

As we all know, baptism by fire is a touchy subject within the Church, as it can mean different things for different denominations.  This actually didn't start out as a study on "fire baptism", more commonly known as baptized in the Holy Spirit, or speaking in tongues.  I actually wanted to know when the Apostles became born again Christians.

Was it on Pentecost, like most of the Church believes?  Or was it earlier?

Little did I know scratching at this would take me down such a deep rabbit hole.  I believe God revealed some things to me I had never put together before.  Perhaps this study will bless you as it did me.

Let's get started.

The first mention of baptism by fire is spoken by John the Baptist.  Here's the passage:

10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  ~~Matthew 3:10-12

When I read this passage in context, I noticed two things.  First, John says, "Holy Spirit AND fire."  Second, he talks about throwing bad trees into the fire, as well as the chaff.  I began to wonder if Holy Spirit baptism and fire baptism were two different things.  I wanted to go into this with no preconceived notions, no 'old-school' teaching to clog up the works, so I kept an open mind about it.  I did some research and found I wasn't the only one to wonder this.  It would seem, in context, that John the Baptist is saying Christ can baptize you with the Spirit (believers) and with fire (unbelievers - Lake of Fire).  Baptism, after all, is defined as being immersed within something. Water, Spirit.  Fire.

"Okay, Lord..." I said, somewhat perplexed.  "How does this tie in to when the Apostles were saved?"

As I stated above, most people believe the Apostles became born again on Pentecost.  But I've always wondered at the passage in John when our Resurrected Lord BREATHED on them in John 20:22.  Well, that's odd.  Why would He do that?

I went through the Bible and looked up everything I could about the breath of God.  Yahweh breathed into Adam's nostrils, thus giving him life (Genesis 2:7).  Scripture mentions all the creatures that came to Noah had the "breath of life" in their nostrils (Genesis 7:22).  The dry bones came together with sinew and flesh, and Ezekiel had but to prophesy that the the breath of life enter them (Ezekiel 37:9).

Clearly, we see that God's breath contains life.  I do not believe Christ did this for no reason.  I believe this is when the Apostles were born again.   Christ breathed into their nostrils, much like Adam and Eve, and made their spirits come alive with the Holy Spirit.  He even said it, "Receive the Holy Spirit."

"All right, Lord," I replied.  "Why didn't the magic happen then?  Where was the roaring wind and the tongues of flame?"

I was reminded that Christ was still WITH THEM at this time, and that He'd told them He had to leave before the Holy Spirit could come to them (John 16:7).  Therefore, His breath upon them was the Spirit indwelling them, but the Spirit couldn't come in power until Christ had left.

"Why, Lord?"

I'm such an inquisitive child.  :)

This is where the study began to blow my mind.  I believe this was given to me by the very Spirit I'm trying to understand.  So bear with me.  And if the Spirit in you agrees with the Spirit in me and finds a ring of truth in this, then perhaps I'm not off my rocker.

The Spirit asked me about the OTHER times the Spirit had manifested in Scripture.

I could only think of one time in particular.  Christ's water baptism (John 1:29-34).

In this passage from John's Gospel, Christ is baptized, and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove.  God opened my understanding and told me in that moment, not only was Christ baptized with water, but He was also baptized by the Spirit.  This wasn't a mere random manifestation of the Spirit, but rather, an anointing by God for Christ to go into ministry.  Most folks agree that this is true, but not many people put into words that Christ was not only baptized by water, but by the Spirit as well at the same time.

Amazing!  But...  I wondered why Christ's manifestation was a dove and the Apostles' got flames above their heads?  So I started asking myself questions.  And the Spirit began answering them.

The dove symbolizes peace.  Christ is the Prince of Peace.  But this revelation went a little deeper.  God told me to take a look at when the dove is first presented in Scripture.  We see the dove in the story of Noah (Genesis 8:11).  He releases it over the floodwaters to see if they've receded.  When the dove returns, it has an olive branch in its mouth.  God told me to think about that olive branch for a moment. Why is it so important?  Then it hit me.  There were no "farmers" on the earth -- they'd all perished in the flood!  Therefore, that olive branch was from a wild olive tree!  Scripture likens the Gentiles as a wild olive branch that's been grafted on to the cultivated olive tree, the Jews (Romans 11:13-18).

Therefore, when the Spirit alighted on Christ like a dove, God was showing me that manifestation was a reminder of the dove in the story of Noah, as Christ Himself was going to leave His chosen people to go out and find the wild olive branch to bring back to the ark.

Now, how does this all tie back in to the tongues of flame above the Apostles' heads in Acts 2:1-4?  Recently, God gave me an understanding of the burning bush in the story of Moses in Exodus 3 and 4.  Scripture alludes to God being a consuming fire in many places.  We know from Acts 2 that the "fire" of God is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, the burning bush was on "Spiritual fire", if you will.  The voice that spoke was the Word of God, which of course we know from my previous study, is Yeshua.  And the Glory that shone was from the Father.  In the burning bush, therefore, we see all three Persons of the Godhead at work.

But what does the burning bush and the tongues of flame have in common?  In both instances, with Moses and with the Apostles, this was the moment God anointed them to GO IN BOLDNESS and "free" His people.  With Moses, God told him to go to Pharoah and the Lord would "teach him what he should say" (Exodus 4:12).  Yeshua also told His disciples this same thing in Luke 12:12: "For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."

If you look at what happens in Acts 2 when the Spirit falls as flame, the Apostles begin PREACHING.  In this instance, they begin preaching in other languages.  Not only was the Spirit teaching them what to say, but how to say it.  Therefore, just like at the burning bush, God told Moses to GO and the flame of the Spirit gave him boldness.  Christ told His disciples to GO and the flame of the Spirit gave them boldness.

The difference between the Apostles and Moses, of course, is the fact that Moses had the Spirit come upon Him, whereas the Apostles had the Spirit indwelling them.  The Spirit couldn't come in power to the Apostles until Christ had left them because Christ Himself had come in peace as the Lamb of God, as shown with the Spirit as a sweet, innocent dove.  Now, however, that innocent Lamb had ascended to His Throne, and the Spirit could come in mighty power and anoint the men of God to do His work.

There was a roar in the upper room in Acts 2, because never before had the Spirit come in such power before.  In Christ, Heaven and earth had been reconciled.  The boldness, therefore, that Moses had was a mere drop in the bucket compared to what the Apostles were gifted with.  They had it inside them, within their heart, permeating every cell of their bodies.  

The coward Simon Peter, who'd denied his Master three times, became one of the most courageous men for Christ who's ever lived.  John went with him to the temple and gave the Pharisees what for, unashamed to accuse them of murdering the Messiah, when mere days before, they had all laid low in the Upper Room for fear of being discovered.  They healed the sick, just like Christ did, and they preached on the streets of the very city that crucified Him.  (I love the book of Acts.)

Were they baptized in the Holy Spirit that fateful Pentecost?  Absolutely!  But we should take "baptism by fire" much more seriously than merely speaking in tongues.  Does it mean being tossed into the Lake of Fire?  Does it mean being immersed in the fire of the Spirit?  Does it mean refining your faith in the furnace of affliction?  Or could it mean all of the above?  We do know Scripture has many layers to it, as prophecy usually has a past and a future fulfillment.  Perhaps this is one of those layers.

But I found this study quite fascinating.  It definitely didn't go in the direction I thought it would.  However, I do believe the disciples were born again the moment Christ breathed on them.  Obviously they believed in Yeshua's atonement once they saw Him resurrected!  They wouldn't have had to wait forty days with Him and another ten after His ascension to be born again.  Besides, becoming a Christian involves asking God personally to forgive your sins and live in your heart as the King of kings and the risen Lord.  As Christ took their faces in His nail-scarred hands, there's no doubt in my mind each and every disciple individually accepted Him as their Savior in that moment.

There's no mention of a corporate prayer to God in Acts 2 for the Spirit of Christ to come into their heart and dwell within.  No, they already had the Spirit of God breathed into their hearts, given by the Lamb in peace as the dove... 

...then in power as the flame.

Praise God!