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Soul Prosperity

By Neil Anderson

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December 16

3 John 2 

I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers
 
A few years ago a young woman flew out to Los Angeles from the East Coast with the understanding that I would spend some time with her. She professed to be a Christian, but her life was a mess. She was hearing demonic voices and was plagued with numerous problems. I’m surprised the airplane stayed in the air with her in it!
 
She told me that she had taken the first part of 3 John 2 as a personal promise: “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health.” “If God has promised prosperity, success and health to me, why is my life all screwed up?” she complained.
 
“Finish the verse,” I said.
 
“. . .Just as your soul prospers,” she continued.
 
I asked her pointedly, “How is your soul doing?” She told me she had submitted to three abortions as a result of illicit sexual affairs and she was presently living with another man outside of marriage. But she clung desperately to a misquoted promise.
 
I believe God wants us to prosper, but we must leave the definition of prosperity up to Him. In our sick Western world, we think prosperity is materialism. Try preaching that prosperity gospel in India, Somalia, or any Third World country. It’s a cruel joke.
 
God is into soul prosperity. He wants our lives to be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit. And when our soul prospers, “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11).
 
Prayer: Heavenly Father, may my soul prosper greatly in You today, and may my life be fruitful as a result.


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A Call to Commit: Crush the Idols

So many who come to faith in Christ seem to want to return to where they were before. Why? They think it was better or “more fun” to live in slavery to sin. As I have shared before I call this place a “Christian’s Spiritual Egypt.” Obviously I am referencing when Israel wanted to return to slavery in Egypt instead of continuing to the Promised Land. They thought they’d be safer and more comfortable there. So a Christian (I am not referring to all believers) thinks their old life was better and they want to return. They want to return to their slavery to sin. That comes from a lack of trust in God which is exactly what the Israelites were suffering from at the particular time I’m referencing. My message here is to those Christians who are on the fence. I pray the Holy Spirit draws you close before you fall back into the vicious cycle of an utterly sinful life.

“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”- 1 Kings 18:21

In this passage of scripture Elijah is establishing to the people of Israel this same message that I’m trying to give to you: You can’t truly serve more than one god. You need to either choose the One True God or you can choose the worthless gods who will do nothing for you. I’m talking about money, popularity, power, sex, relationships, etc. Those are all idols when you put them before serving the Lord.

Elijah isn’t the only one who spoke this message in the Bible. Jesus told us that we can’t serve two masters. We’ll hate one or the other (Matthew 6:24). Sin is rebellion against God. And that is ultimately hatred towards God. Also, God can’t go against his own character. If you choose to live in slavery to sin, God will be forced to withdraw His presence, His Holy Spirit from you. We saw that happen to Israel’s first king, Saul.

“Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul…”- 1 Samuel 16:14

Saul chose to disobey God and lead a life of rebellion. He paid the price for it. God doesn’t change, so He is required to do the same today because He is just.

Sin is so deceiving and it sneaks up on you like a predator. You begin to tolerate one little thing and that gives a foothold for the enemy. Sin then slowly takes over your life. Finally, you feel trapped and you can’t get out. No matter how much you want to and how much you try you can’t. I’ve been there. Then, if you don’t confess your sin to the Lord and repent, you begin to love your sin and you’re back to where you were before Christ. Finally, you’ll begin to plunge deeper and deeper until you are destroyed by your sin unless you turn back to Christ. That is the downward spiral of sin.

“How come every time we buy into an idol, we’re the ones that get devoured?”- Jefferson Bethke

Because as Jefferson Bethke states in the video I just quoted, “An idol takes, it never gives.” When you’re so wrapped up in what people think of you that you’ll do anything to gain their acceptance, you are a slave to acceptance. You have now put that before God. It’s the same way with anything else. Popularity isn’t bad, unless you turn it into an ultimate. Money isn’t bad until it’s turned into an ultimate. What are your idols?

“This day I call the heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live”- Deuteronomy 30:19

Life is found in Jesus Christ. Death is found in sin and the ways of the world. It’s as simple as that. Your choice. No one else can make it for you. God’s not going to force you to choose life, but he wants you to. If you turn your heart away from God and choose to be disobedient and serve your idols, you will surely be destroyed (Deuteronomy 30:17-18). Choose life (that is: Jesus) today.

You know who you are. If you are on the fence and are falling into the idol trap, you haven’t gone too far. The grace of God can reach you. No matter what you’ve done you can be made new. If you repent and turn back to your faith in Christ, you will be saved. God promises us that. If you have been ensnared by sin, pray to God and repent now. Don’t wait. Do whatever measures it takes to crush your idols.

Make this declaration:

“As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD”- Joshua 24:15

Here is the video of Jefferson Bethke that I quoted. This poem is inspired by what true manhood is, but I believe everyone can get something out of this.

God bless you!

-Austin


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Fire: Keeping the Flame Ablaze

During this summer, I have spent some time clearing out a worship spot at my house in the back of our woods. I must say, I really enjoyed doing it. I wanted a spot that I could go and spend time with God in solitude. I gathered old down trees to use for seating, found various pieces of old furniture to place back there, and Tiki Torches to help keep away bugs. In the middle I built a good-sized fire pit for bonfires. The other evening I went out to that spot to spend some time with God. My brother was with me and we were trying to light the fire. The pit had quite a bit of wood in it so if we ever got it lit, it would be a very big and nice fire. The problem was we couldn’t get the fire lit.  Granted the top pieces were a little wet, but the rest of the pile was dry, so we didn’t think it would be much of a problem. We had pieces of cardboard to help start the fire, but it didn’t work. We lit some of the dry leaves in the midst of the sticks, but it didn’t work either. We even found some straw to light to help with the process, but all it did was burn. It didn’t stay lit and the fire died quickly. So finally after much frustration, we got the gasoline. Now, I realize this is not the smartest choice nor safest, but I wanted a fire! Luckily nothing bad happened! So we light a few more pieces of cardboard and paper just enough to keep it a flame for a few minutes. Then we doused the places we didn’t have lit with some gasoline so with the fire caught it, it would light up. The finally we applied the gasoline on the flames that were going and instantly, the fire went ablaze. We experienced the thrill of getting our fire lit and the fire was glorious…for about ten minutes. But soon, that gasoline had burnt away, the wood had never really caught a flame, and the fire died out again quickly. Now I realize that there are better ways to light a fire, and if I did some other things I could have probably got that fire going. However, I’m glad I tried to light the fire the way I did because God used it to teach me something.

When the fire began to die out again, I was getting kind of irritated. Then I felt God speak to my heart saying, “I need people who will tend and stir the fire, not just light it.” I immediately knew what God was saying to me. In order to keep a fire going, you have to constantly add fire to the pile, you have to stir the fire to keep the fire going, and you have to watch it. Gasoline is a nice help, but it is only a temporary fix. It only lasts for a moment. It looks glorious and the flames are huge, but they don’t have much life. God doesn’t need followers who will be like the gasoline. Who will become very passionate and devoted to God one day, and have a devotion to Him that dies at the end of the week. He wants followers who will fan the flames. Who will keep the fire going, even if that means taking longer steps in doing so. Followers who will spend the extra time in prayer, reading of His Word, and living out the life He calls His people to.

I think you would be very hard pressed to find a church, if you asked them, would not want to see people come to know Christ. I mean, that’s just a ludicrous thought. The Church may have many different denomination and beliefs of theology, but I don’t really think there are many people in the Church who do not want to see souls saved. In fact if there are any, I really think those people need to evaluate their life and see if the are in step with the Spirit. But all too often the Church tries to witness to the world with gasoline. With big and glorious displays of various ministries, emotional appeals, etc. Those of you who serve the Lord know exactly what I’m talking about. But those things don’t last. People who come to the Lord on those terms won’t last unless that fire is cultivated. Unless their flames are stirred and wood is added to the fire. If the Church and Christians want to set this world on fire, we first have to cultivate the fire in our own hearts, then also be willing to take the time to minister properly and effectively to help keep the fire lit the hearts of others as well. Jesus told His followers that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they will be His witnesses. The Holy Spirit gives Christians the power to witness to others about Jesus powerfully. God is the source of that fire. I pray that believers everywhere will submit to the Holy Spirit and allow God move in their hearts. I also pray that Christians all over the world will fan into flame the gifts of God and take the steps necessary to keep that flame going. When the fire rises true and proud, the world around us will catch fire too. Don’t use the gasoline. Cultivate that fire.

“Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands.” ~2 Timothy 1:6

“Fire must be kept burning on the altar continually; it must not go out.” ~Leviticus 6:13

May God be with you.

-Joey


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IS THE RESURRECTION REAL?

 

Big question!

Obviously there are some big and very compelling evidence that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead but first lets go back to the trial of Jesus and have a closer look at what He went through, just to satisfy ourselves that Jesus was in fact dead and didn’t just swoon (whatever that is) as some would have us believe.

After his so-called trial and sentencing, Pilate ordered Jesus to be scourged. The Romans scourge was probably one of the most barbaric instruments of torture other than the cross to emerge from the very depths of hell and wielded at the hands of men.

The scourge itself was made of the sinews of oxen and sharp bits of bone which were plaited through it at intervals; so that every time the lash came down on the bare body of Jesus, great lumps of flesh came away from His bones and not just from his back.

A scourging, more often than not resulted in the death of the victim, negating the necessity of an execution. But Jesus was on His mission – the mission of Salvation.

After the scourging they mocked Him plaiting a crown of fierce thorns and shoving it down on his head calling Him “the King of Jews”, they pulled out His beard and punched Him in the face.

Jesus survived all of that – It was more than likely a normal healthy male would probably have died through such an ordeal. But then he had to carry that tree/cross through the gates of the city to Golgotha.

Jesus could NOT have survived the crucifixion. The blood loss alone, the trauma, the shock, the nails, the pain would have been more than enough for most.

Roman procedures were very careful to eliminate any possibility that the victim was alive after such an ordeal. The death penalty was waved over the head of any soldier who let a capital prisoner escape.

When taken down from cross – Jesus’ body was tightly bandaged and put in a cave with a huge boulder across the entrance. If he did awake where did he go?

How could a ‘swooning’ (whatever that is) half dead man have moved that boulder? Could these rough, strong guards be overcome by a ‘swooning’ corpse, considering everything he had gone through?

The disciples were blamed for moving the body of Jesus, but with soldiers guarding the tomb even if they were asleep, the very effort of Jesus’ rescuers attempting to move such a huge rock would have awakened them. Anyway the disciples would never be able to overcome the force of Roman soldiers.

No! Jesus was dead when they laid Him in that cave –  So we are left with the Question “Did he really rise from the dead?”

There are just many witnesses that actually saw Jesus after His death – from the very earliest records a whole swag of Jews not only believed but taught that Jesus had been raised from the dead. There is absolutely no dissent at all that Jesus appeared after his death to his followers.

Mary was the first eye witness, followed by His disciples.

The resurrection was so startling at first that many doubted and found it hard to believe.

Therefore, for more than a month afterwards, Jesus supplied his disciples with many convincing proofs that He was in fact alive. Thomas was even shown the results of His horrific death and torture because of his doubts.

A lot of these witnesses were stunned into worship as they laid eyes on the very living form of Jesus.

You, like me may need to be shown the very logic of scripture or others may need to be confronted about mistaken spiritual beliefs or like Thomas some get hung up on the very physical side of Christianity and can’t believe, by faith, of the very grace of God.

One thing is certain – Jesus did die! Jesus did rise from dead! without those two amazing facts our faith means nothing – we are like a rudderless ship tossed about on the ocean with no hope of rescue just abandoned to the elements.

Jesus was willing to do whatever it took to in order to help us believe. The chapters in the Gospels regarding Jesus’ Crucifixion and resurrection are a bracing slap in the face to all of us believers who are lulled into taking our salvation for granted. We should never underestimate what it cost Jesus.

The false accusations, the rigged trial, the flesh-gouging scourging, the mocking, the beatings, the crown of thorns, the anger of the crowd, the excruciating journey to Calvary, the nails, the weight of hanging on that cross and the sheer horror of being abandoned by God his Father.

The price He paid – The gift he offered – All for us.

Jesus paid it all for us – follow the one man that can conquer death. It doesn’t mater how messed up we are we all need to get right with Jesus.

The resurrection is true, lives are transformed and re-birth a real possibility.

Christ is alive – guiding our lives, healing, touching and giving new life – HALLELUJAH!


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Hold on – Press on – Hang on tight

“Sometimes life just seems to get the better of me.” Probably we have all heard that statement many times and in many situations.

You may have even said it or felt it yourself a number of times as well.

Life IS hard – Life can be VERY hard – We can have things thrown at us that can send us completely off the rails if we let it and even cause us to go into deep depression.

Australian statistics are pretty alarming as to the number of people suffering from a myriad of differing depressive illnesses – from very mild to very severe, depressive illness can rob people of their self esteem, their jobs and often sadly their very lives.

http://www.beyondblue.org.au describes it like this “Depression is one the most common of all mental problems. One in five people (here in Australia) experience depression at some stage of their lives”

One in five!! WOW that’s pretty startling – statistically one in every five people we meet, in theory, have some sort of depressive problem – worry, stress, anxiety, phobias and fear.

Christians certainly aren’t exempt from suffering trials, tribulations and worries – there are hundreds of different reasons why we are thrown a curved ball in life and they all have serious potential.

Worry is so debilitating – it steals the joy from living and we can become so preoccupied with whatever the problem is that there is little else left over.

We can feel that we are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problem we are facing – we feel alone, helpless, weak and vulnerable.

Worry can rob us of peace, sleep and communication. It can affect our marriage, our jobs and worst of all it can cause separation from God.

Worry can rob us of our prayer life and study of God’s Word – we can feel God is not there or that he doesn’t care about our problems.

Worry and stress can lead us away from God – lead us to a dark place in our lives and lead us to a point where we take our minds and hearts off Jesus.

Some days we feel we can’t possibly make it through – there is nothing absolutely nothing going right – everything has gone pear-shaped – our lives have been shattered.

It is in those dark places of our lives that, as strange as it sounds, is the very time we have to place our utmost faith in God – where we have to praise Him for what we DO have in our lives and look at the blessings that He has given to us.

When the days ahead look their blackest – when there is seemingly no answer to an on-going problem that is the very time we, in faith, have to reach out to God and hold tight and hold on to His promises.

Annie Hawks and Robert Lowr wrote a song which I feel spells out pretty plainly what I’m talking about, it goes like this:-

“When I think I’m going under, part the waters Lord.
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea.
When I cry for help, O hear me, Lord and hold out your hand.
Touch my life, still the raging storm in me.”

Knowing that God loves us is pretty amazing – we are never alone – we never have to face our trials, no matter how huge they are, alone.

He is the one who wants to take our burdens and even in the darkest place imaginable – He is there to shed amazing light and the promise of a better future – all we have to do is hold on tight to Him – he will show us the way.

Jesus has promised us a prize – an amazing prize – an awesome prize, but we need to press on, hold on and with God’s help we will have the strength.

Even though we are battered and scarred in the process, even though we may stumble and bumble along, God’s perfect plan is for us all to reach His goal.

When we are sad and worried we can a huge tendency to look on our worries and trials in the most depressive way – everything takes a mammoth amount of trouble – everything looks like it is working against us.

To every dark side – every sadness – every worrying time, there is often a brighter side – we as Christians need to hang on tight to those ‘bright’ sides of our problems.

As Charles Spurgeon once said “Even the darkest underground mine often yields a vein on pure gold” and again “Samson’s lion yielded honey, and so will our adversities, if rightly considered.”

Faith’s way of walking is to cast all of our cares on the Lord and then anticipate good results from even the worst of calamities.

Even in the face of death itself – we Christians can look beyond the grave to the amazing light of the resurrection – sure and steadfast in the knowledge that Jesus’ sacrifice knocked death on the head – killed and forgotten – death will have no hold on those whose hope and faith is in the Lord.

Christians need to hold on tight to Jesus no matter where we are in our lives – whether on the mountain peak or down in the deep dark valley.

Living close to Jesus we are covered with the very wings of God himself – His wings of protection – his wings of peace and underneath us are His everlasting arms.

We have all had difficult roads travelled in the past and we are sure to have more in the future – whatever the case – whatever condition we are in, we will need Jesus.

Hang on tight to His hand – Hold on to His promises and press on to the Goal.

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Beware of the Dog!

dogsadWhen I was out walking the other with my beautiful wife – we came across a sign on the fence of a house that said “Beware of the dog” – well they weren’t wrong!

Not just one dog but two – cooped up in the small handkerchief sized front yard – both vicious and snarling and both pretty worked up because we had dared walk past their territory.

We both talked about how terrible it would be to be attacked by wild dogs and how fortunate we have been so far to avoid it – those dogs were indeed ferocious!

It made us wonder why in the world would anyone want to keep such wild animals as pets!

Somehow I just couldn’t get my mind off those terrible dogs – they were just so savage – yet those people inside obviously loved them – they could see something in them that we were at a loss to explain!

Seeing those dogs and the absolute hate in their eyes for us as strolled/ran past made me think of hate in the world generally!

The world out there is full of hate unfortunately – and if you are a Christian then a lot of the time that hatred is aimed for and squarely at you.

The world hates Christ – and if you are fully committed to Jesus then it stands to reason that the world will hate you also.

James in his letter spells it out pretty plainly that we can’t be friends with the world an friend with God at the same time – God won’t have it and the world will hate us.

James 4: 4 says “Do you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

I wrote a further blog about this very subject in November of this year entitled:- “You can’t be in two camps or play for two teams.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote lines along a similar vein when he said quote:- “If you follow Christ, you shall have all the dogs in the world yelping at your heels.”

That just about sums it up for me – maybe in not so graphic terms as Spurgeon puts it – but the thought is there – that we make ourselves a walking target when we stand up for and confess that Jesus is our Lord and we are committed to Him.

More than that though – Satan the arch enemy of our Father is out to get us also.

1 John 5:19 says “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one”

WOW! the whole world! – pretty awesome when you think of it.

Then in 2 Tim 3:1 “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty”

So again that is pretty plain- God has already told us that we will be hated by all men for His name sake – Satan is prowling around tempting us at every turn – throwing our past sins up at us – telling us we are not worthy to come to Christ – even making us believe that we have no need of forgiveness.

Anything to keep our eyes off God and onto ourselves – that is his aim – to make us backtrack – to turn away from God and to give our allegiance to him and the world.

Paul had the same worries about this very thing. He says this to the Corinthians “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3).

So what do we do? If we fully love God and make that love known to others by our actions then the world will resent our commitment for the very reason that it will show them their own sins and iniquities (if I can use that word)

In other words we will become living testimonies to the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives and the world will not like that – they won’t want to hear that their lives can be changed.

We will need the bravery and steadfastness of a lion to face the world at large – we need each other for support and assistance – we need our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord to give us the courage to fight against all the evil powers that Satan will throw at us.

We will need to be brave when we make a definite stand against Satan. We may see our very best friends become our fiercest enemies.

But for Jesus’ amazing love we will be, with the awesome help of the Holy Spirit, courageous, brave and true when facing off with our enemy.

As I have mentioned before, we are only passing through here – this world is not our home – Jesus traveled this road long before us – He has won the battle – we need to uphold His standard in the fight and we desperately need to follow in His footsteps.

It is far far better to fight this brief warfare here and share in our (undeserved) reward won by Jesus Himself than to give in to the world and all the dastardly consequences that that will bring for eternity.

Fight the good fight – Jesus has won the battle – we need to hold His standard high and put on the whole armour of our Lord and Saviour.

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The Blood of Jesus Christ

I started reading a book by Watchman Nee called Normal Christian Life. So far I have only read the first chapter, but within that first chapter something really stuck out to me. He said “a clear conscience is never based upon our attainment; it can only be based on the work of the Lord Jesus in the shedding of His Blood”. The entire first chapter is about the Blood of Jesus Christ and how it applies to the life of a Christian. I thought that the chapter laid out beautifully what the Blood of Christ truly means to us as followers of Christ.

The chapter starts first by pointing out that the Blood of Jesus really isn’t so much for us, as it is for God. Now at first reading you may say, “Hold on a minute, the Blood of Christ is what saves me!” Yes that is very true and Nee is not dismissing that very important truth. What he means is that the only way God pardons our sin is if He sees the Blood of Jesus paying for the debt of our sin. Think about the Israelites when God commanded them to eat the Passover lamb inside the house, but spread the blood of the lamb on the doorposts. Then, when God passed over Egypt on the Passover night, God would see the blood and pardon the household. This is the same with us and the Blood of Christ. When God sees the Blood of Christ applied to our hearts, He can forgive and pardon our sin because of the great sacrifice of Jesus. So consequently, the amount we value Christ’s Blood is directly linked to the value that God values the Blood.

 

After realizing the value of the Blood, it is crucial that we base our life around that. Without the Blood of Christ, we can not go into the Presence of God without fear and shame. On the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament, the high priest alone was to go into the Most Holy Place to offer the sin offering to God. As it is with Christ. He is our High Priest who applies His blood to our sin to make retribution before God. When we allow this to become true in our everyday life, then it shapes our entire relationship with God. Some days I can feel really connected with God. I read my Bible and get a lot out of my reading. I feel like really connect with God in prayer and hear from Him. I am able to reflect the love of Christ well. I feel like I’m serving God well. Other days, it can be just the opposite. I don’t feel the same connection during my Bible reading or prayer time. I don’t reflect Christ’s love well. I may be mean or nasty. But listen to this: our standing before God is not based on our works, our merits, how we feel, or anything we can furnish. It is by the Blood of Jesus that we are able to be seen as forgiven by God!Do not allow the way you feel ditate how you think your relationship with God is based. It is only by the Blood of Jesus that we have relationship with God!

 

It is very easy as Christians to allow ourselves to get beat up when we fall short of the glory of God. We believe the lie that we have to earn our way into God’s love or we have to preform for God to be accepted. But praise be to God that it’s not about what I  can do, it’s about what I can’t do. Only Jesus can bring me back into restored relationship with Jesus. When we try to base our status with God on anything other than the sacrificial Blood of Jesus, we play right into Satan’s schemes.  The Bible calls Satan the Accuser. His tricks aren’t new. He has used the same tricks all through history; lying and accusing. He will try to accuse us of our sin before God and lie to us saying that we are failures and can’t be forgiven. By ourselves, we are failures and we can’t be forgiven. We can’t save ourselves. But by the Blood of Jesus I am redeemed and by His grace I can be pardoned of all my sin!

 

I pray that as you read this blog, you will ponder in your own heart whether or not you are applying the Blood of Jesus to your life. Does it really impact your everyday life, or is it more than a passing thought. I encourage as the Lord to reveal more of Himself to you, and share His value of His Son’s Blood with you. As always, I pray this blog encourages you or helps you! Blessings!

 

Joey

 

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The Virgin Birth of Messiah

Most people have probably heard the story about Jesus’ birth. Here’s Luke’s account:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

There’s something about the birth of Messiah that’s somewhat controversial, even among some Christians. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Many ask, “Was Mary actually a virgin? Was the birth of Jesus truly a virgin birth?” Well let me take you back a few hundred years before Jesus Christ was born.

Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Isaiah clearly prophesies a virgin birth here. The original Hebrew word that was used for “virgin” here is “almah.” This Hebrew word means a “young, unmarried woman who has had no sexual relations.”

The angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary in the book of Luke. Luke 1:26-38 says:

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Notice that Mary tells Gabriel that she is a virgin. She wants to know how she will give birth to a child if she has never been with a man.

My point is this: The Messiah MUST be born of a virgin. It was prophesied by Isaiah hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Hundreds of years before the book of Luke was written. It was something that had to be fulfilled. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. If Mary had not been a virgin, Jesus would not have been Messiah. Without the virgin birth, there is no Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), no Savior, and we are completely lost. But Jesus fulfilled ALL of the prophesied requirements for the Messiah. Jesus born of a virgin. That fact is essential to the Christian faith.

“Jesus was born that you might be born again. He lived that you might live. He died that you might die to sin.” ~Spurgeon
God bless you and Merry Christmas!
-Austin

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Christmas: The Day Hope Was Born into the World

For may people, Christmas means a lot of things. For some, it means lots of shopping, traveling, and scrambling all over town to get those special gifts for special people. For others, it may mean getting together with family that they are unable to see throughout the year. These are great things. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get special people gifts. It is greatly important as well to spend time with family. However, Christmas marks a day much more important than gifts or family. It celebrates the day that God sent Hope back into the world.

Picture this. From the time the prophet Malachi, which is the last recorded Old Testament book, to the time of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) there was 400 years of silence. God’s chose Israel as His chosen people. Starting with Abraham, God promised a linage that would never perish and would bless all people. Abraham descendants were enslaved by Egypt for over 400 years, when God sent a leader, Moses, to bring them out of Egypt. After leaving the bondage of Egypt, Israel remained faithful to God for a time. Unfortunately, the longer Israel lived around the pagan nations, the more they grew into to practices of those nations. They eventually started worshipping and serving dead idols rather than the one, true living God. God began sending prophets to various parts of Israel. Those prophets began speaking the words of God and pleading for people to turn back to the Lord. Eventually Israel, was broke into two nations (Israel and Judah). Israel was wiped out by the Assyrians and Judah was taken into captivity by Babylon for 70 years. The prophets began giving snapshots of a Messiah that was to come and lead God’s people and save them. After the people of Judah were liberated from Babylon, the people turned back to God. But their worship to God became nothing more than dead religion. So with the last of the prophets, Malachi, God did not speak to Israel for almost 400 years.

The people of Israel, however, still held on to the hope of the coming Messiah. Although the Pharisees of that time taught hypocrisy, there were still those in Israel who were looking forward to the coming Messiah. Then one day, prophecy started being fulfilled. The forerunner of Messiah spoken about in Isaiah, “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3), John the Baptist, was born. Not too much later, Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, was born in Bethlehem by the virgin Mary, in a manager because there was no place in the town inn. This fulfilled the Scripture that said, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,Mighty God,Everlasting Father,Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Hope came back into the world when Jesus was born. Jesus came and ministered to all of Israel, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again three days later from the grave, overcoming death. He not only paid the ransom for Israel, but opened up the door of salvation to all who believe in His name an turn from their sin. He now seated at the right hand of God and He will return for His Church.

Jesus came in the most humble of ways. He came as a baby. He didn’t come in with an army. He didn’t come in as a conquering king. He came as a baby, in human form, to relate to us and give us hope that once seemed lost. So this Christmas season, really reflect on the fact that Jesus chose to step out of divinity, and live as a human only to be hung on a cross for the sin of the world. I encourage you to read the Birth of Christ in the book of Matthew and Luke. When you are unwrapping your gifts, spending time with family, and eating hearty meals, remember Jesus this year. Jesus is the reason for the season. Truly.

Joey

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The book of Acts is a tremendously important book in the life of a Christian believer. It contains some of the earliest history of the early church and provides great information about the church’s growth. Such rich information about the history of the Christian faith should be treasured! Acts serves as a connector or bridge between the Gospels and the Epistles of the New Testament, providing great historical and introduction information to the Pauline Epistles. Without the book of Acts, Christians would be left with many unanswered questions about the New Testament such as who were the authors, what happened after Jesus returned to the rather, and how did the church start? Clearly, Acts has an irreplaceable spot in the Biblical canon.

The book of Acts also provides information about a crucial event in Christian history, Pentecost. This book is unrivaled in its information about the work of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the Spirit, and the functions of the Spirit’s gifts operated in the life of a Christian. “Pentecostal theology appears elsewhere in the New Testament; however, any Pentecostal theology founded without the full benefit of the book of Acts would be severely impoverished”. It is often stated the book should be named “Acts of the Holy Spirit” because of the many circumstances that the Holy Spirit guided the early church and made a way for the advancement of the church.

It is true that the actions of a person stems out of what they believe. Some want to separate faith and practice, but this is not consistent with the Bible. The Bible uses positive and negative examples all throughout the Scriptures to illustrate lifestyles affected by beliefs. Historical information is meant to guide future generations into right living, and the book of Acts is no different. The material found in Acts is meant to guide Christians in their walk with the Lord and help them understand what they believe.

There are many theological and hermeneutical emphases found in the book of Acts. One main theological theme found in Acts is the continuity of the Holy Spirit’s activity. From the very beginning of the book, the Holy Spirit shows up and shakes up the life of believers. After the day of Pentecost, the Spirit inspired such boldness and passion in the hearts of Peter and John that they went out to preach in the synagogues of the city. The people were amazed at their teachings (much like they were at the teachings of Jesus) and recognized the authority in their words because it came with power from the Holy Spirit (Acts 3). The Spirit continued to guide the church and grow the church all throughout the book of Acts.

Another emphasis is that of the redemptive-historical perspective. This attempts to understand each verse, passage, and book of the Bible in the scope of God’s overall sovereign plan. This theology seeks to focus on the unity of the entire Biblical message and necessarily individual stories. The focus is events in history unfolding in God’s perfect timing. A great example from Acts can be found when Jesus tells his disciples, “wait for the gift my Father promised…you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5). The disciples had not yet received the Spirit nor had they went out preaching the name of Jesus because it was not time for them to do so. The time would be right when God was ready to carry out His plan, which can be seen in Acts 2.

A third emphasis, but certainly not the last, in the book of Acts is the primary role of the Holy Spirit. Over the years many viewpoints have been presented about what the role of the Spirit really is. The Holy Spirit has been said to be an agent of holiness, empowering the believer for service, and increasing the intimacy of relationship between Jesus and the believer. All of these things are true and the Holy Spirit certainly works in sanctifying a believer and creating a deeper relationship with Christ, the book of Acts is undeniable in defining the primary role of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). The primary role of the Spirit according to the book of Acts is to empower the believer for service and to make greater witnesses.

Luke, the author of Acts, included theology and practice in historical-narrative that can be seen all throughout the book’s entirety. One of the most obvious methods that should be observed is that Luke wrote Acts much like the format of the Old Testament book of history. In the Old Testament, there are statements made by monumental figures that were intended to affect the practice and beliefs of those who read the books. “A look at Acts and the Old Testament accounts for many features of Acts. There is evidence that in writing Acts, Luke used Biblical language and models.”

By looking at the writings of Luke, it is clear that Luke intends to be more than just an observer or historian. Although he makes sure to record the events of history accurately, even if it means illustrating bad qualities in the early church, he also adds editorials to his work. He gives clues in his writings that reveal whether he approves or disapproves with the characters that he is narrating. Luke wants not only for his readers to learn accurate history, but also come to conclusions about the actions depicted in his writings and whether or not they are just. Pentecostals draw much theology and practice from the book of Acts and would be at a terrible loss if it were not appropriate to do so.

As valuable as drawing theology and practice from the book of Acts is to the Christian believer, it is important to exercise correct methods of doing so. It is quite possible to draw things from the book that the author never intended. When reading Acts, extra attention must be given in the clues that Luke left to illuminate what he intended for the reader to learn. An example is his tendency to report things repeatedly or report things that are similar several times. It is most likely that Luke wanted to reader to find extreme importance in those instances and repeated those things for emphasis. Again, one must not read deeper into the narrative than Luke intended. It may be tempting to add things or draw conclusions about certain topics with vague description, but such practice can potentially harm interpretation and must be avoided.

-Joey

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