Friday, April 26, 2013

Counterfeits! A Spiritual Warfare

    Lessons from 2 Timothy 3

This week I heard a news story about how the Associated Press's Twitter account had been hacked. Within minutes, thousands of people had virally retweeted from this trusted source of information, unknowingly and exponentially spreading a lie that the White House had experienced explosions. The effects were dramatic, including a huge, albeit temporary, plummet in the stock market. 

Though it was rectified quickly and diffused almost as immediately as it had happened, it made me think about the vulnerability of not only these social media platforms, that they seem not to be able to guard against this sort of malicious hacking, but also that people were so trusting of the source that they, without question, passed on false information.

There are certainly spiritual applications galore in this story. In a spiritual sense, we are warned by Paul in his second letter to Timothy that counterfeits - false teachers and prophets - will just be part of our lives, and that time will only see it worsen until the return of our Lord and Messiah, Jesus. The question is, are we sure we could spot a fake? Let's investigate 2 Timothy, chapter 3, together, as it provides some useful information in identifying and combating the enemy's impostors.

Identifying a Counterfeit: We Are What We Do

Read 2 Timothy 3:1-5

This is quite a list. I think it's important to take a look at each of these words, dissecting their precise meaning:

Notice the first two and the last item, lovers of self, money and pleasure -which sandwich all the others in between, are nothing more than the idols of our day. When we are lovers of these things rather than of God, then the others are the resulting behaviors, the actions and attitudes born of serving our own self interest rather than the One True God.

boastful - an empty pretender
arrogant - haughty, not humble
revilers - evil speech
disobedient to parents - literally not persuaded by their hard-won wisdom, not respectful to elders
ungrateful - not gracious but rather expectant, a sense of entitlement or false worthiness
unholy - this is opposite of holy, so basically common, not set apart or unlike the world, base
unloving - the root here is 'storge,' a fondness through familiarity, so unsocial or cold, no nurturing
irreconcilable - not able to be persuaded into a covenant (not with God or others)
malicious gossips - this is a serious offense, often equated with murder, think 'accuser,' the word is literally diobolos, get the picture?
without self control - this is a fruit of the spirit, beast-like behavior
brutal - again, beast-like or animal like, savage, not tame
haters of good - unappreciative or supportive of goodness and purity in men or God's word
treacherous - this implies giving someone over into an enemy's hands, a traitor (think Judas)
reckless - literally 'to fall forward,' to be rash in reactions or decisions or judgments or temper
conceited - proud, haughty, puffed up

Verse five ends with 'holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. This means that these impostors might, for example, do good deeds. They might be 'a good person,' they might give to charity, they might help others out, on the surface, it seems to be good. But further investigation of these individuals, underneath the surface, indicates that it is not God's power that they use or point to in what they do.

Overall, all of these behaviors can be classified as prideful, beast-like, accusatory, idolatrous, without love - in a word - LAWLESS. It is no coincidence that all of these above mentioned characteristics is a direct affront to one of the 10 Commandments, and others. But the question is, how can we know that these behaviors indicate lawlessness unless we have some knowledge of the Law?

You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 22:38-40

Oh, sure, we're pretty familiar with this one. In fact, it is thought by many that Jesus was simply redefining the law here in this scripture. But that's not what He was doing at all. He was explaining that these are the foundation upon which the rest of the commandments hang (literally). If we can't start here, we are lost from the onset. These are the basic building blocks upon which we learn of God's holiness standard. These two commands are what we must genuinely have obeyed in our hearts first before we can begin to pursue godliness through obedience to the other commands. Otherwise, it is all just empty legalism.

But make no mistake, we are expected to know and obey God's commands. Not for salvation, but as citizen's of God's Kingdom, we should be holy, as He is holy, because that is what He commands us to do. Lawlessness is symptomatic of false faith, and Jesus tells us that this has consequences:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'
Matthew 7:21-23
If we are truly believers in Jesus the Messiah, if we are really in a relationship with Him and cognizant of His redemptive work in our lives, if the Holy Spirit truly resides within us, there our actions will show evidence of it.
You will know them by their fruits...So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, not can a bad tree produce good fruit.
Matthew 7:16, 17
I hope the seriousness of how we choose to behave is coming across here. Do not be misled, Beloved: you are what you do. If you see more of the characteristics of 2 Timothy 3:1-5 in your life than Galatians 5:22, this indicates a serious problem. That's not to say we never make mistakes, but we should be getting holier every day and should certainly be repentant rather than defensive about our bad behavior.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
Romans 6:1-2 can we spot a fake when we see one? Or what are some ways to indicate whether we ourselves have been agents of the enemy? Here are a few questions to ask yourself when trying to assess a situation:
• Whogets the glory of the good deeds being done?
• What is the motive of the good deeds being done?
• Do thewords one is saying heal or destroy?
• Are the words and behaviors biblical and representative of Christ? 
Application: Do you have symptoms of counterfeit faith? What fruit is your family seeing to prove whether or not you are an authentic follower of Christ? What do you think your friends see? What about strangers? And most importantly, what would the Lord say?

The Mission and Method of a Counterfeit: Spreading the gospel of Lies

Read 2 Timothy 3: 6-7
These are very difficult truths to think about. But I share them with you not to make you feel bad or to accuse you, but rather to protect you against the enemy and His lies. God wants to prevent His children from being deceived, and sometimes when He intervenes, it's painful because we have to admit that we were wrong or fell into a trap. But that's less painful than the enemy selling you false security that ends in your eternal separation from God.
So now that we've seen that counterfeits are out there, these next few verses indicate why it is that Satan preys on us.
It is well-documented that the body of believers is often referred to as a 'she.' A great example of that is that we are called the 'bride of Christ.' It is my view that here when the words weak women are used, it is to indicate us. It's not just about women here, it's about believers.
When I read verse six and think about a weak woman being preyed upon, about someone craftily inching his way in to a house in order to prey on her, my mind goes back to the beginning of the Bible. Back to the first woman in God's creation. Back to Eve in the garden of Eden. Wasn't she in her house, alone, unguarded? And didn't the serpent show up to prey on her weakness, seducing and manipulating her? Yes, he sold her a lie and made her an unwilling and unknowing vessel of that lie to influence others - by others I mean Adam, her husband.
This is not the only place we find Satan attempting to play on the weakness of a particular child of God in order to use them again Him:
• Evewas alone, and the counterfeit offered her the fruit of disobedience

• Israelwas waiting and losing faith, so the counterfeit offered the golden calf

• Samsonstruggled with pride and false security, and the counterfeit offered Delilah

• Miriam and Aaron struggled with jealousy, and the counterfeit offered gossip and slander

• Judas struggled with greed, the counterfeit offered money to betray a friend

Each time, the child of God was in a weak place and the enemy wormed his way in tooffer something that was self-gratifying and against God’s law, rendering them vessels of lawlessness - he turned them against God using the lust of the flesh, lustof the eyes, pride of life (1 John 2:16).

Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

Are you beginning to see that there is more here at work than just you? The enemy seeks to use God's own children to slap Him in the face. You, Beloved, are in the midst of a holy war. This is why the enemy targets us, and this is why you must be on guard and avoid people like this, so that you will not be poisoned by them and rendered vessels of deceit.

Application: It is very important that you know your weaknesses! Take heed what you listen to, what you allow into your home, what you expose yourself to. Even seemingly harmless movies, songs, radio programs, and friends can pollute you. It may sound extreme, but the scriptures says "what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness" (2 Corinthians 6:14). It can only lead to confusion, and, as we know, God is not the author of confusion.

The Fate of the Counterfeits and the Confidence of the Believer - God Prevails!

Read 2 Timothy 3: 8-12
Okay, right about now you're wondering, who in the world are Jannes and Jambres? Since they are not found in any other part of the Bible, this makes it difficult. However, if we look to ancient rabbinic literature, we find them.

Travel back with me in your mind to the great Exodus account. Pharaoh had enslaved the Hebrew people, and Moses had been tasked with leading them to freedom. When Moses and his brother Aaron went to Pharaoh and performed signs to convince him that they spoke on behalf of God, it is stated that Pharaoh's magicians repeated their miracles. Jannes and Jambres are said to be the names of those magicians. They appear in other lore and seem to have had quite a reputation for the trickery they could perform.

Why does Paul mention these two? He is so purposeful. Let's look to what the sciptures say about the fate of these magicians:
AndMoses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD hadcommanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants,and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and thesorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with theirenchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents:but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.
Exodus 7:10-12

Notice that the rods are what are being thrown down. And these two magicians seem to be able to keep right up the Moses and Aaron as far as the miracles they are performing. But in the end, the rod of Aaron (in the form of a snake) swallows up the rods of these false magicians.

Now bear with me a moment: this word for rod in Hebrew is מַטֶּה pronounced "mah teh."
It means more than just a stick. It also means offshoot. It also means tribe. So in other words, there is a double meaning to this whole scene. Here, the appointed prophets of God are throwing down their rods and the enemy is throwing down his. And in the end, God's rod devours the enemy's rod. If rod also carries the connotation of offshoot, or seed, or descendants, suddenly we see the whole thing is a shadow of the war waging between God and the enemy. The rod of Aaron is representative of Christ, who has overpowered all the death and destruction and sin that the enemy could dish out. He has won. And He will return again to complete the job of removing the enemy forever.

So Paul's reference here packs quite a punch. What he is telling us is that the fate of these counterfeits - although they are very convincing and cunning - is failure. The seed of the enemy will never prevail. So we better be sure we are on the correct side of that battle!

Knowthis, “False Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signsand wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
Matthew 24:24

Application: Beloved,we are certainly a target that Satan wants to use to hurt God. He wants to turn us against the God we love usingtrickery and deceit, and if we are completely unaware that we are even doing that, that is even better for him. Do you know for sure that you know the difference? Are you certain of God's Wordand His methods?

One other thought I wanted to share with you is in reference to verse 12. I read The Communicator's Commentary on this passage and something the writer said really resonated with me. Here is what he writes:

“Why are Christians in America socomfortable? Why are we so accepted and well-received? One of two things must betrue. Either we live in a Christian culture that naturally provides a climateof acceptance and support, or we have accommodated ourselves to the valuesestablished by non-christian culture. I don’t find enough evidence to convinceme that ours is a Christian culture. Our comfort and acceptance can onlysuggest to me that we have been tamed by the world around us and haveacquiesced with the world’s values much more than we realize or dare to admit.”

Some of you out there are probably experiencing great social discomfort for standing firm in your pursuit of holiness. I know it has happened to me from time to time. For others out there in other parts of the world reading this blog, it goes beyond social stigma. Stay strong, my friends. I pray for you steadfastly.

Guarding Against Counterfeits: Our Weapon, the Word

Read 2 Timothy 3: 13-17

Some of you have read previously that I work for my church. I recently heard that several false Facebook pages had been created in our pastor's name. I don't know if anything was ever posted on his behalf that was particularly damaging, I think our amazing IT department nipped it in the bud, but I have to wonder: would people out there know our pastor well enough to discern his voice? Would we know the original well enough to spot a false Facebook page? Don't you think if someone hacked in to your page, it would be very evident to your friends and family? They know your tone, your word choices, your speech patterns.

The same concept goes with our Maker. He has given us the greatest defense against fake representations of Himself. These Sacred Writings Paul refers to are the Old Testament Scriptures we know now. It is interesting that he says they are the wisdom which lead to salvation. The Word is our weapon. In it we find out who God is, what sin is, its consequence, and its remedy. 

Now, some of you have tried to read the Scriptures and have become so frustrated because you've found them difficult to comprehend and have not been able to find relevance to them in your lives. They don't feel like wisdom that leads to salvation at all, so the temptation is to skip over them to the truth of Christ found in the New Testament. That is certainly how I started out. But now that I have had a few great teachers share some insights on what to look for, I have found that the Old Testament is absolutely essential to study and value in order to come to a full understanding of God's redemptive plan and work through Jesus. So I want to show you some very valuable tools for when you search the Scriptures, that are going to revolutionize the way you look at the Bible - and they are going to help you get to know our Lord.


There are certain characters that are highlighted, that stand out, that serve as 'types' with which we need to become familiar. Jannes and Jambres are an example of a type of false prophet. By observing their behaviors, we can apply that knowlege to other false prophets, such as, they look like the real thing, they can perform miraculous acts, and they will fail in the end. Another classic example of a type is Moses. Observe:

Moses was a prophet • Jesus was a great prophet
Moses fasted for 40 days • Jesus fasted for 40 days
Moses was the great mediator between God and Man • Jesus IS the greatest mediator between God and Man
Moses gave the Law of God to the people on a tablet of stone • Jesus's sacrifice made it possible for the Holy Spirit to write the Law of God on our hearts of stone, transforming us
Light radiated from Moses • Jesus refers to himself as the light of the world

These similarities are not coincidence. We are supposed to draw connections between the two of them. God was signaling long before Jesus ever came what His son would be like. And we can learn things about what Christ has done through what we observe about Moses. Make sense?

So when someone stands out: Samson, Melchizedek, Ruth - then there is probably a reason for that. It doesn't mean that they were not real people, but God rose them up to teach us something through their lives and ministries.


One of my favorite things about God is that He teaches through patterns. He is so merciful to those of us remedial learners, and so He repeats himself over and over again in different scenarios, making His point ever-clear.

A great example of this is the pattern of inside vs. outside. Throughout scripture we read about many stories where being inside represents being in covenant with God, resulting in protection, and being outside meant being outside a covenant with Him, resulting in judgment.

• Adam and Eve were inside the garden of Eden until they disobeyed, and their punishment was that they were removed to 'outside' the garden of Eden
• Those Israelites who marked their doorposts with the blood of the passover lamb and were inside their homes were safe from the destruction of the angel of death outside.
• Noah and his family were safe inside the ark, while those outside were exposed to judgement via the flood
• In the wilderness, those inside the camp could enjoy the presence of God; when rebellion and sin occurred, they were relegated residence outside the camp

This pattern is a picture for us, helping us to understand that safety and protection lie within His parameters and provision. Now those parameters, as defined by God, are to trust fully in Christ; only then are we safely in covenant and members of His kingdom. To disobey and rebel against Him by not doing this can only lead to destruction.


Shadows are concepts set in place that, that the same time they represent phsical truths, actually also represent spiritual matters. Truthfully, each of the 613 commandments have a spiritual equivalent; each are shadows of a spiritual principle. But here is a little bit of a less nebulous example:

For many years I wondered what the whole purpose of the sacrificial system and purity laws were. Only recently as I have personally studied out Leviticus have I begun to understand that these systems are a 'shadow' of what Christ ultimately came to do. The sacrificial system was a method for people to draw near to God; since His holy spirit did not yet reside in mankind, this was necessary. They could not approach Him just any time or in any way. They had a sinful nature that had to be atoned for so that they could approach His holy presence. There was also a specific set of purity rituals, set in place for in order to cleanse oneself to even become eligible to offer sacrifices to draw near to God. To be clean required water, typically in the form of a ritual bath. To be atoned for required blood, an animal sacrifice. This is the principle that still stands. It is no coincidence that during Christ's crucifixion, when the guard pierced His side, that both water and blood emptied from His body. This sealed the deal and connected Jesus to those purity and atonement systems: He was the source of that living water and that blood. He was what those systems alluded to. It is through Him that it was always intended that true cleansing and atonement would come. What was in place before were mere shadows of Him.

I do hope that these three new concepts will help you to begin to see the Old Testament Scriptures loved by Paul (and myself!) in a whole new way. As he says, all of the scriptures are useful and valuable. Through old and new testaments we experience reproof because we see sin defined and the punishment of separation with God explained. Through both testaments we are corrected in that we are taught we must be purified with water and atoned for with blood, and that Christ is the source of those for us. Through both testaments we are trained to pursue holiness, leaving behind the bondage of our past and walking in newness of life and freedom. And through both testaments we are taught that if our walk is genuine, we will look different than we did before God's intervention in our lives - we will bear His fruit through good works.

A Final Word

It is ever so important that we know our weapon, Beloved. We must learn it, memorize it, and live it out. It is the only safeguard against the enemy finding a foothold, entering your house, and corrupting you with His lies and using you for his own purposes. Know the original in order to combat the counterfeit. Know His word - the written word, and His messiah, the living Word.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Five Things You Should Know About the Bible BEFORE You Study It – Part Three

The Gospel Message of salvation through Jesus Christ is the big picture of what God is doing. This message is something that we should not only know about and believe in order to enjoy effective Bible study-but it is also the essential foundation upon which our knowledge of God grows. If you have not yet been introduced to that message, or if you are unsure of what the walk of the believer is all about, or if you know the gospel but have questions about what some of the parts of it really mean, here is an unabridged presentation of the Gospel, using verses from the Old and New Testaments, presented in a way that includes information I wish I had known when I was just beginning my journey. I hope it helps in your search for truth, Beloved.

The first thing to know is that God has always had a plan.

In the beginning God created the earth, animals, plants and man. He created everything and He called it good. Adam and Eve were created in a perfect state of holiness, in God’s image,so it was only natural that they could enjoy fellowship with Him. That has always been His plan.

God set up parameters to help man understand that in life, there are divisions-good and evil, holy andcommon, clean and unclean. Obedience to God’s parameters would have kept them holy. Disobedience, he told them, would defile them and bring death – so obedience and disobedience, He taught, have consequences.

Brought on by temptation and a lack of trust in God, Adam and Eve broke God’s commandment and ‘sin’ entered the world. What they didn’t know then was the nature of sin, how it was like Pandora’s box, a contagious, nightmarish spiritual disease. Now in a state of imperfection and unholiness, what began as holy became defiled by that sin, and Adam and Even became separated from God in their defiled state.

The Bible says that Adam and Eve became aware that they were ‘naked’ and felt ‘shame.’ They were no longercovered by God’s holiness. They covered themselves with fig leaves, but God took an animal and killed it, and made skins for them to cover themselves with. God taught, from the very first couple’s sin, that there us nothing we can do to cover our own sin, to make things right. In order to atone, or cover, sins, blood is required. A God-appointed substitute could take the punishment that man deserved. This was the very first animal sacrificed in order to cover man’s sin. This would not be the last time.

Because of the contagious nature of sin, their children and grandchildren and all descendants even now you and me are born into the world not in God’s image, but in this spiritually sick state. We are separated from God because we have what is called a ‘sin nature.’ We a born separated from God, and separation from Him leads to death.

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
Isaiah 59:2

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
 to see if there are any who understand,
 who seek after God.
 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
 there is none who does good,
not even one.
Psalm 14:2-3

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.Romans 3:23

For the wages of sin is death…
Romans 6:23

In the generations after Adam and Eve, God continued his pattern of separating and dividing. He chose the Hebrew people to be his special holy people, just like Adam and Eve had been once. Just like in the garden of Eden, these people were given parameters, what we now call the Law of Moses. The people entered into a covenant with God, understanding that, just as before, there were consequences for obedience and disobedience.

Though once it had been justone rule – do not eat of that tree – now the law of holiness contained much more-613 commands! God has progressively revealed more and more about sin and holiness to His people as time has marched forward. Part of the law of God now included a way to come near to God, since man was now born into a fallen, sinful state, and these prescribed methods are called the purity rituals and the sacrificial system. The law received by Hebrews also contained standards and expectations God has for how His people should treat Him and one another, and practices for what to do if one of these rules is broken.

The sacrificial system was very complex, but in a very general way it worked much like the days of Adam and Eve. An animal was brought forth by the sinful person and sacrificed to God; the blood of the animal covered the sin of the person; the animal suffered the punishment earned bythe sinful person. So, since people were sinful and not perfect, the Hebrews were in a constant state of fluctuation from holiness to defiled and back again. Sacrifices were needed every single day.

But there was one thing that could not be atoned for: intentional sin. If one of God’s holy people knowingly and willfully sinned, there was no going back. They were cast out of God’spresence. They had to live nearly perfect lives in order to maintain arelationship with God.

Just like Adam and Eve, the Hebrews, though they were a holy people, broke God’s laws on purpose. They willfully disobeyed because they were temped and did not trust God. And the same consequence that applied to Adam and Eve applied also to the Hebrews. They had to face the consequences of disobedience, which was that they became separated from God as a result of their broken covenant.

Now not able to enjoy God’s promised protection because they broke their covenant, large empires conquered Israel, the land of His holy people. Scattered and disbursed throughout other nations, seemingly hopeless, God was not finished with them. His plan has always been to live in fellowship with mankind. So He appointed prophets togive them a message of hope. He would restore Israel. He would send a messenger, a messiah, who would bring them once again to their holy state. He would make a new covenant with them:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout,Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt,the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven willset up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to anotherpeople. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
Daniel 2:44

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God,and they shall be my people.
And they shall teach no more every man hisneighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall allknow me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: forI will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Many years passed. Empires rose and fell. From the Assyrian to Babylonian to Persian to the Greek tofinally the Roman empires, power changed hands many times. During the Roman period, after silence from God for nearly 400 years, the prophecies about the messiah suddenly began to come to pass. God sent His messiah to restore Israel at this time. A virgin named Mary discovered that she had miraculously conceived a child. Afraid and confused, God sent an angel to comfort the woman, telling her that her child was the son of God, that promised messenger and messiah, the one who would restore hope to mankind. This child’s name would be Jesus.

Jesus was born and grew and learned quickly. All the days of His life, He lived according to the Law that God had given to the Hebrews. He became a great teacher, He healed people who were sick, and He offered them eternal hope and life. He took on a group of disciples and began to teach them about the Kingdom of God. Those who were being healed and taught by Jesus believed who he was. Those who experienced Jesus were changed, were made whole, and had hope. Jesus offered hope in a revolutionary way because He invited everyone to enjoy forgiveness andfellowship with God.

However, not everyone believed that Jesus was who He said He was. He did not look like the man whoIsrael was expecting and He did not behave the way they thought He would behave. Rather than a great and powerful king, Jesus came as a servant, as a poor man,as one who offered forgiveness, restoration and eternal life but not in the way they thought it would come.  He spent time with people that were sinful and sick. This caused much confusion and anger with Israel. Many devout priests and teachers did not believe that Jesus was this promised Messiah. They felt he was a trouble maker and wanted him gone so that he would not confuse people. Ultimately a group of people plotted to have Jesus killed. They accused him of heresy because He said He was the son of God, the King of the Jews.

But Jesus had been preparingHis followers for this moment. During His time with them, He had told them that He came to fulfill the Law that had been given by God, to embody it and express it in its fullness. He warned them that He would be arrested, betrayed, and killed. He had come to fulfill the Law by offering His own life as a sacrifice, his blood atoning for the sins of mankind.

But He reassured them that though He would not always be with them, though He would die, He would be raised up from the dead on the third day after His death.  He also promised them that a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would join those who believe after His death. This Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of mankind would be the sign of the New Covenant that God had promised so many centuries before.

For I willtake you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and willbring you into your own land.
Then will Isprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness,and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
A new heartalso will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will takeaway the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
And I willput my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shallkeep my judgments, and do them.
And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave toyour fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.

These things were very difficult for the friends of Jesus to understand. They could not comprehend why He had to die and wanted to defend and protect Him. But Jesus told them that these things must happen so that He could fulfill His mission. Through His death, if people believed in Him and followed after Him, they could be restored to fellowship with God. He was the fulfillment, the best expression of the purpose of the sacrificial system, because He was the God-sent, perfect Lamb who could lay down His life to atone for sins, once and for all. And that is exactly what He did.

Jesus was arrested, tortured, crucified and buried in a borrowed tomb. He died a shameful and painful death.The family, friends and disciples of Jesus were so saddened. They had given up their ways of life and followed Him. Now it seemed like it was over. But after three days, the body of Jesus was discovered to be missing. Angels visited someof His followers, telling them He had risen from the grave. In the days that followed, He appeared to His followers at different times. Jesus, they discovered, was alive! This meant that everything that He had taught them had been true. He really was the son of God. Belief in Him as the messiah, following Him, declaring Him to be the atoning sacrifice for our sinful ways was the key to restoration with God! And those who are declared holy in this life will enjoy fellowship with God after our time on this earth is over in His eternal kingdom of Heaven.

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

For God so loved the world that He gave His one andonly Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Have you struggled in your life with trying to understand your purpose? Do you feel an emptiness that relationships, hobbies, change, nothing seems to be able to satiate? If you are not enjoying true fellowship with the God who created you for that purpose, then you can never know true joy and security. Until you know Him, you will never find what you are looking for.  He wants to be able to declare you one of His holy people. He sent His son, Jesus, to die as a sacrifice for all mankind, so that if you only believe that He was who He said He was and proclaim Him as your Savior, His blood will atone foryou, and God will declare you what you were always meant to be: holy, and His.

To receive this gift is about belief and trust in God and Jesus. But we are also instructed to tell others, to share what He has done for us with those in our lives.

If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:9

Once we place our hope and faith in Christ, we are a new creation, according to the Bible. That old sin nature that we inherited from our ancestors is gone, we are cured from our spiritual sickness! We have been raised to walk in newness of life, and our lives should now reflect Christ’s life, one of obedience and holiness as defined by God. Once He has forgiven us of our sin,the Bible says we should no longer continue in sin. We should obey God’s Word, our way of living and our motivation should be to show our gratitude for our free gift, to glorify God and live a life worthy of being called His holy people.

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin,because he is born of God.
1 John 3:9

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, thatgrace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live anylonger therein?"
Romans 6:1-2

But where do we start? If you feel overwhelmed, be comforted in the fact that the process of learning to live life as a believer is life-long. If you begin with reading the Bible, this will help you to learn about who He is and what He expects. Just as Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples, He has been promised Him to you as well. As you read the Bible, the Holy Spirit will help you to understand what the scriptures mean. He will convict you and guide you and comfort you as you learn how to walk according to the faith. You will need to read the Bible every single day, and also learn what the Bible says about how to pray to God. Prayer is very important. We must continue to confess and repent of our sin as the Holy Spirit makes us aware of it. We must continue to thank Him, to talk to Him. Your faith is a relationship, and the more time you spend with the Lord, the deeper your relationship will grow.

God has always had a plan. It was for you, Beloved, to find Him and to know Him. I hope you will open your heart to Him, that you might find a peace and a joy and the comfort of knowing your purpose in this life and your inheritance of eternal life to come in the next one. you can understand the full joy of effective Bible study, reading it as it was meant to be read: as a redeemed child of God.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Breakthrough! First Fruits Revealed

Five days a week, I wake up in the morning and prepare for my 26-mile trek through the concrete jungle of Houston, Texas in my trusty eleven-year-old, two-door coup. It's often a battleground, a place where all my claims to spirituality and holiness are put to the test. So you can imagine my surprise when, as I barrelled, ducked and dodged down the highway at high speeds just a few mornings ago, I was overcome by the spiritual implications I saw in a scene that looked, well, much like this...

There, on the side of this dreary, colorless highway, up through the cracks, life emerged - seemingly quiet, so lovely, and so powerful it broke through stone. And as I passed it, the image resonated in my mind, and God spoke to my heart:

No power can stop the life which YHVH intends to bring to His world.

It was then that I thought of Jesus and all in this world that tried to snuff out His precious life - the men who plotted, the enemy that attempted to distract, the huge stone barrier covering His tomb following his death... I felt the heaviness of the defeat which the family, friends and followers of the Lord after He died. How could such powerful, 'concrete' obstacles be overcome? Yet despite barriers and the perceived weakness and defeat...then there was life. After three days, the radiant victory of His resurrection, His emergence from the darkness, brought hope and life to us all.

I'll say it again: No power can stop the life which YHVH intends to bring to His world.

The timing of this could not have been better, as this week was the celebration of the Feast of First Fruits, which is the third of the 'moedim,' or appointed times, in God's calendar. We have looked at a few of these so far and seen how they foreshadow and memorialize important events in the redemptive history of Israel and of mankind: Passover, we found, represents the death of Jesus; Unleavened Bread is emblematic of His burial and the burial of our sins;  and now we come to the celebration of His resurrection - First Fruits.

Leviticus 23:9-14

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When you enter the land which I am going to give you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the Lord for you to be accepted; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall wave it....Until this same day, until you have brought in the offering of your God, you shall eat neither bread nor roasted grain nor new growth. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places."

An Agricultural Event

What we notice from the scripture is that this festival is designed to mark an agricultural event: the barley harvest. Barley was harvested in the spring each year, right around Passover. That's just when it ripened. It was the first thing to be harvested each year. Up to this point, people would have been living on preserved grains that were left from the last of the fall harvest from the previous year. It was definitely an occasion to celebrate. New life! New grain! Continued provision! A reminder of how good the Lord is, and how faithful He is to provide for His children.

On the surface, it's very easy to see that God wants us to keep in mind before we enjoy something who it is that provided it. Are we conscious that the homes, incomes, pleasures and material goods we possess are not truly our own? Are we living in gratitude for each year of continued gain, success, provision? This holiday is a time to remember to be thankful to the Lord for new and continued blessings.

A Sheaf of the First Fruits: Our Messiah

By now you know that with these festivals, there is more going on than there appears to be at first glance. We have learned that God uses physical, tangible, earthly things to teach spiritual concepts. In keeping with that, it sparked my curiosity that there was the stipulation that no part of the new barley harvest could be consumed until this 'sheaf of the first fruits' had been brought before the Lord. What could that possibly represent?

Well, a sheaf is also called an omer. That was a weight of dry measurement, like a cup, for example. Now I have no idea how much that was in today's terms, but we see the omer a little earlier in the Bible, in Exodus 16. And that might provide some insight. In context, Exodus 16 tells of how the now redeemed Hebrews find themselves in the wilderness, hungry and afraid. After an outcry, for food, for survival, for comfort...God provides:

...and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded, 'Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.'" The sons of Israel did so, and some gathered as much and some little. When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat."

An omer per person was all that was needed to satisfy each individual, great or small. Eventually, Jesus would sit among His believers to explain the spiritual meaning of this bread from heaven in John's gospel, chapter 6:

"I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

Belief in Jesus causes Him to become our manna, our omer, all that satisfies and sustains. We all, great and small, get the same portion of Him through only our faith and trust and obedience.

Hopefully you are beginning to see that there is a connection between this first sheaf, or omer, of the barley harvest, and the Lord Jesus. Let me drive the point home for you now. The omer of the first fruits had to be brought up and sacrificed to the Lord before any other part of the harvest could be enjoyed. In the same way, Christ foretold that His death was necessary, for through His sacrifice and resurrection a new day would dawn, and a new harvest would be made available to all - forgiveness, peace with God, eternal life!

The First Fruit/First Born Connection

So now we understand what that first sheaf is representative of. But what - or who - is this first fruit that the sheaf is taken from? And what is so special about the first part of things? There is definitely a connection between God and first borns, and I would like to explore it with you here.

Technically, this first part of the barley harvest is the first of it to be 'born.' Going all the way back to Genesis we can easily see that the first borns were treated differently. First-born sons, before the priesthood, had the special status of carrying out the rituals for the family. They were, in essence, the family priests. They were the inheritors of the wealth and titles of their fathers. It was a highly coveted thing to be a first-born son, and if you need evidence of that, just look at the encounter with Jacob and Esau regarding Esau's lost birthright or the constant squabbling of Jacob's twelve sons and their mothers. There was power in it, authority, and status.

When we look at first-born sons, an interesting trend emerges. Think back to Abraham's sons, Ishmael and Isaac. While Ishmael was Abraham's first-born son, God chose Isaac to be the son of promise. You may have always chalked that up to the fact that Ishmael's mother was not a wife but a servant and surrogate. Yet years later, Esau was the first born of twins, both legitimate sons, but still his younger brother Jacob inherited the status of first born, before the children were ever even born! What's more, beginning in Exodus, the first-born sons lost their privileges as priests of the family and it became the duty of the Levites, the sons of Aaron, the new high priest, to perform these rituals and to be set apart. And all of these changes were according to the Lord's choosing. What is God trying to tell us? What does God have against these first borns? Why does any of this matter?

What God is trying to communicate to us is that 'first born' status has nothing to do with birth order, and everything to do with His choosing. And that is significant to us as redeemed people. It is according to God's choosing that we become His children, part of His great harvest, that we have become His first fruits:

"You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit..."
John 15:16
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
James 1:18

They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.
Revelation 14:4

Now I understand why that little sprig of life bursting through the concrete touched my heart in such a powerful way. For just like the life of that little flower, nothing can stop what the Lord is doing through you and through me. Though we were condemned to death in our sin and darkness, in spite of that we were chosen to carry the privilege and the duty of the first borns of YHWH; and it was all made possible by Jesus, the first of resurrected. Despite the enemy's attempts to keep it from us and us from it, nothing has been able to keep us from the LIFE God has intended for us. And that, Beloved, is what First Fruits is all about.


I hope that you are reading this and feel inclined to celebrate God's victory in your life today. His death and resurrection mean life for us! Relish in the awareness of that gentle and persistent strength that He has placed within you - you are a conqueror, a first born of the Most High God! And with that great privilege comes responsibility as well. Are you living a life of victory, of gratitude, of fruit-bearing, a life worthy of that call?


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Great Leadership, God's Way: Lessons from 1 Timothy


A few weeks ago, I was able to teach through 1 Timothy 3 and 4 in Bible study at my church. In this passage that I thought would help me develop a checklist for the leaders of my church, the Lord - as usual - refocused my attention to my own ability and calling (as there's plenty of LOG still left in my eye to attend to, ha!) Check out this interesting word the Lord shared with me and our class, I hope through it you will find new insight, encouragement and empowerment as the leader of the flock to which the Lord has entrusted YOU!

Who, ME?

As we have discussed in prior posts, Paul's letter to Timothy had the target of addressing and rectifying some issues with leadership in the Ephesian congregation of believers. Some people were taking on authority who had not been called, some were attempting to distract the flock with false doctrines, and then there were the leaders who being usurped and undermined, grappling to put back together what was starting to tear at the seams.

1 Timothy 3:1
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.

Paul's guidance can serve as a kind of check list, a way to indicate the health of ourselves as leaders. Yes, that's right, I said a way to evaluate ourselves. 'Wait, Amanda,' you are thinking. 'I'm no pastor. I'm not even in leadership at a church! Ah, but Peter would say otherwise:

1 Peter 5:2 "Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God."

and so would the writer of Hebrews:

Hebrews 12:15: "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled..."

Notice in the above scriptures I have underlined a few words. These are, in Greek, the same word as overseer in our Timothy text:
So from the very beginning Paul makes an excellent point, and one worth thinking about. We are all called to be overseers of someone. Friends, children, spouses, coworkers, mentees, Facebook followers, you name it. God has given you a very specific sphere of influence. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you are shaping and affirming ideas in the minds of others by the way you live and the things you say. The question is, are you aspiring to do it God's way? Because intentional, God-focused leadership, friends, is the call of every believer- and fine work indeed!

Ministry Begins at Home 

From the outset, I need to mention that the most important ministry we have is within our homes and families. Yep, that's right. They should be getting the very best of you, not what you have left after ministering to everyone else around you.Why is this? Because God designed the family unit to be a reflection of Himself, an earthly institution through which we can identify with the traits of our Heavenly Father. Inside the family, there are equal, yet distinct, roles, all translating to a characteristic of the Lord. Husbands are the proclaimers of the Word within the home, the protectors, the providers. Wives are the support, they show us sacrificial love and servant-leadership, as Jesus did. Parents show us the role of pastors, training and preparing their children, their arrows in the quiver (Psalm 127) to shoot off to hit the target of a godly life. Children demonstrate Christ-like submission and obedience. Whichever of these you are, to the rest of your family you are a crucial element in their understanding of who God is. Without your obedience, their view is incomplete. What a HUGE responsibility! It's a great and wonderful ministry, and God selected you for your family and your family for you because all of you together living inside His will for your lives make the perfect picture. Pretty neat, huh?

This was the same in Paul's day. Homes were the central location for ministerial activity. And after Christ's death, when the Christian church began to develop, homes are where congregations met together. They attended synagogue services, because this was the place where the Bible was publicly read, and then afterward families came together to talk and pray and fellowship together. Since these home churches were a new development, the now messianic Jews (Paul, the disciples, etc) who began these churches in gentile populations borrowed from their known church structure (that of synagogues) to impart leadership roles to individuals. The roles Paul mentions in chapter three - overseer and deacon, were just a few of many, many roles that already existed in the Jewish synagogues.

Here are a few:

Apostles: missionaries, like Paul, who brought the Gospel to new areas
Prophets: people who spoke the will of God into situations and individuals' lives
Evangelists: spread the Gospel message to the surrounding area, built up the body of believers
Pastor/Teacher: Shepherded the flock by teaching and caring for people
Nasi: the 'CEO' of the congregation, a political representative who organized events and speakers (Paul's teacher Gamaliel was a Nasi)
Tzedakim/Deacon: These individuals took care of the service end of the ministry, taking alms to the poor, etc.
Chasan: Overseers of the word, eventually became modern day worship leaders, they made sure the Word was correctly handled and read
Rabbi: A skilled teacher of the scriptures, an orator, who travelled and had students

These roles were - and are - about service, building up unity in the body. They were not about status, power, or resumes. Based on chapters 1 and 2 of 1 Timothy, it sounds like either the church at Ephesus was in need of some of these particular leaders or, most likely, there were people in the congregation aspiring to lead and maybe even going about getting the authority the wrong way. So Paul needed to clear up how we are to handle leadership.

Seeing all of these varied leadership tasks, what sparks your interest? Are you gifted in and passionate about one of these areas, and ready to share that with your family or flock? Before you answer, it's not all about just having the right skill set for the job. The next part of the passage indicates our spiritual readiness for leadership.

The Right Stuff

The next several verses, 2-13, detail qualities of a good, godly leader. When you read these definitions to follow, think about how you manage yourself in the presence of the flock around you.

Above reproach: This is a toughie. For those of you out there who love being an independent, free-thinking, 'I-don't-care-what-anyone-else-thinks' kind of person, newsflash! What other people think - how others perceive you- does matter. If anyone could raise an eyebrow, you'd better think twice. This quote sums it up much better than I could:

"Live in such a way that if anyone says anything negative about you, no one would believe it."

Now we are not to live in bondage to what others think, but you must consider how things look. As a rule, Michael and I don't ride in cars alone with a person of the opposite sex. It has nothing to do with trusting one another, it's just that we never want to give each other a reason to have any worry that we've put ourselves in a vulnerable or unwise situation. It removes any potential for a problem. Get it?

Husband of One Wife: Based on what I told you about family's function for the Lord, you can understand why loyalty and ability to honor commitments is important. Since we are God's bride, husbands must live in such a way that shows how Christ is committed to us. He wouldn't ever change his mind  about us. He will love us forever. In the same way, a husband's permanence of commitment models this.

Temperate: This means exercising self control with what is consumed (that goes for food too!)

Prudent: You don't have to be serious all the time, but this word implies taking your role seriously and having control and wisdom in being appropriate. There is a time to play, and there is a time to work!

Respectable: Gain this by being orderly, having decorum, living a well-ordered life, being dignified.

Hospitable: I think it's important to note here that this means not only opening your home to others, but also your heart and eyes. When you walk into a room, are you approachable? Do you try to make others feel welcomed, noticed, cared for? (especially people who are alone, new, etc.)

Ability to Teach: Not only the ability, but the willingness to do so. Are you bold enough to have teachable moments, to gently instruct and keep people on the right path?

Not addicted to wine: There is a saying that goes, "What parents do in moderation, children do in excess." Just keep that in mind how you model.  

Not Pugnacious: Quarrelsome, violent tempers are a no-no. We are not called to pick fights, we are called to plant seeds.

Gentle: This means equitable, fair.

Peaceable: Being agreeable is definitely being emphasized!

Free from the Love of Money: We are not to be greedy, but to share the assets God has blessed us with.

Manages His Own Household Well: Again, when you lead, your life is a model. God expects you to live out His standard in the presence of others.

Not a New Convert: This was a problem in the Ephesian church. We must be sound in our doctrine, our understanding, and have weathered a few storms so that we are self aware and wise, before we can lead others into battle. It doesn't mean if you're a new believer you can't serve, but there is a time to be taught before there is a time to teach.

Must Have a Good Reputation with Those Outside the Church: You can't just be above reproach in your believing congregation. Your faith must translate out there in the world. To your waitstaff, your grocery check-out person, to the salesperson calling your at dinner, to your neighbors who never mow their lawn, to your children's teammate's obnoxious parents, to everyone. Again, no raised eyebrows is our goal.

In all, there are 15 directives, and while 3 are 'don't dos' most are 'dos.' In case you are like me and need a pocket-sized goal to work toward, you can sum up great leadership, and the above characteristics, with three main attributes:

Godly leaders are:
-Self Sacrificing
-Self Controlled 
-Sans (without) Drama

Please note that while I called these 'goals to work toward,' you and I cannot acquire these things in our own strength. Only in spending time with our Shepherd and allowing Him to pastor, mold, change, shape and grow us, can we become this kind of leader. We lead out of an outpouring of what the Father is doing in our own lives and hearts. We must start there.

A Word of Caution to Aspiring Leaders

There is a serious word of caution here for those of us who seek to lead. What God wants us to know is that if we want to lead others, and do it well, we must first start on our knees before the Lord, letting Him instruct us. We must first be teachable, we must seek His agenda above our own. And when we have allowed Him to fill us up, to develop these above qualities within us, then it is most important that we wait for the Lord to exalt us at the proper time, to bring the flock He has for us to us.

If you find yourself unhappy under someone's leadership, if you struggle because you are angry that you have gifts to give and a perceptive eye and you think you could do a better job - HOLD IT! Do not usurp the authority God has in place; do not give in to the temptation to undermine, to slander, to sabotage. That is exactly why Paul wrote this letter. There were individuals in the Ephesian church causing serious damage to the body because they were behaving this way. Are you really about God's agenda regarding your gifts? Then use them to help the leadership in place. We are all one body. Proverbs 3:27 instructs, "Do not withhold good when it is in your power to do so." Dear friend, do not let the enemy win, playing on your jealousy or your need for validation and your lack of faith. Pray for your leaders, and pray for His timing and opportunities to use your gifts, and pray for contentment. God is in control, and His plan for you is great! Trust that.

One last thing. I said before that godly leadership is not about authority, rank, position or importance. It is about service to others. If you seek leadership with no regard for the flock's growth or well-being, this is a red flag. A great example of this wrong thinking is found in Mark 10. Notice that these men didn't understand what they were asking. They wanted the glory, not the burden. Christ gave His life as a ransom - he was available always, giving always, about others before himself always. Are you ready to do the same? To drink of that cup?


Who is the flock God has put in your path? Are you willing to step up and become the leader God has meant for you to be today? Are you living up to these high standards? What areas need work? Does it have to be on your terms? Pray for a spirit of self-sacrifice and humility. Do you often lose track of yourself, or are you off balance in areas? Pray for a spirit of self-control and healing. Is your desire to lead about His plans or your ambitions? Pray for a pure and humble heart. I will be praying for us too!

Blessings, friends! Next stop...1 Timothy 4!

Tweets by @AmandaTadlock