Troubled Times

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:1)

The questions that people were struggling with in Jesus’ day were in many ways just like the big issues we deal with today – oppression, poverty, inequality, rioting and lawlessness, making ends meet, the future, how to live uprightly – let alone how to stay alive at all.

Israel was under the heel of the Roman Empire – a regime of unsurpassed cruelty, foreseen by the prophet Daniel in one of his night visions as “a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. (Daniel 7:7)

Roman rule of its subject nations was harsh and uncompromising. The presence of its military must have been a continual cloud of oppression on the people – made even worse by by the alien religious beliefs of Rome, and a coinage that displayed the emperor as a god.

Any form of protest or rebellion was stamped out mercilessly, and it was this aspect of Roman rule that the Jewish religious authorities appealed to in persuading Pilate to crucify Jesus.

Roman taxes were levied on a populace already obliged to pay a tax to the synagogue.  Under this double burden, many people struggled to eke out a living.    In addition, small farms and horticulture were being swallowed up or outmaneuvered by rich landowners who could afford to buy or hire workers. Chicanery and double-dealing were rife in the market-place – neither Rome nor the synagogue elders were even remotely interested in fixing THAT problem.

The Jewish people hoped the Messiah would come on a white horse and lead them in battle to conquer their enemies, like Joshua and Gideon of old.   Instead, the Messiah came preaching that change must take place from within the heart.

“Together, the Beatitudes present a new set of ideals that focus on love and humility rather than force and mastery; they echo the highest ideals of Jesus’ teachings on spirituality and compassion” (Wikipedia).

To many of His hearers, the style of Jesus’ ministry came as a total shock.  Indeed, some followers started to fall away when He began to reveal the hard truths of his coming death.  You can almost hear ‘the worldly’ saying, “What good is a Messiah who is going to be put to death?”

Yet, in the 2000 years since Jesus proclaimed His message, some of the world’s greatest and most influential humanitarian thinkers and activists have adopted and followed His teachings – Ghandi, Tolstoy, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela. 

Their examples, great as they were, have not been enough.

We need to return to the basic tenet of Jesus’ message – change must begin in the heart of every single one of us.  It is our individual responsibility – not someone else’s.

Blessings,

Patricia

Pentecost 2020

A lot has happened in the world since I last posted – COVID-19 being the obvious front-runner that has affected all of us.

Here in NZ we came into full lock-down on 25 March, continuing until mid May.  We are still at Level 2, with limited public meetings and travel.  I have carried on shopping for myself, was very relieved that up here we are away from the main centers, and have been intrigued and thankful for how God has brought a whole new life to the Church out of what the enemy intended for disaster.

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Having been online since 1996, and ‘attended church’ online (one way or another) since 2008, I have long felt it was high time churches got away from holding meetings closed up in their precious buildings, and realized the very real opportunities afforded by the outdoors and the Internet.

Well Hallelujah, that is happening at last.

True, some churches videoed their services and put them up on the net, but it was just a token and certainly not the whole story.  The Body of Christ was still very inwards-focused.   Now at last overseas congregation members are being recognized alongside the ‘on-campus’ church, more outreach is being offered, and a new sense of worldwide fellowship is arising.

This was always meant to be – look how the disciples spread the faith across the then known world, without Church buildings or technology – purely by the power of that initial Holy Spirit igniting!

“…the sanctuary had to be emptied before this change could happen…”

Pastors are no longer speaking just to those in the sanctuary (and let’s face it, the sanctuary had to be emptied before this change could happen).   As of this Pentecost weekend, some churches are planning outdoor ‘on campus’ services, streamed worldwide.   Innovation – it can only get better.

Pentecost 2020 may go down as the most unusual Pentecost since 30 AD, with the whole of Jerusalem set alight by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.   We are in a similar lock-down to the disciples of old, following the epic events in Jerusalem at Passover, 50 days prior.

What will happen this Pentecost? Most certainly some churches intend to meet (while observing protocol). There are online events coming up also.  Will Pentecost 2020 prove to be another memorable occasion?

Most assuredly.    Mighty changes have already taken place, and we can expect more yet.  The Holy Spirit is still working, and while US churchgoers may have noticed only their loss of cozy fellowship, to those watching from the outside the changes so far have been salutary and long overdue.

Though God did not inflict Covid-19 upon the world, He will use it to bring about a whole new way of operation for the Church (see Paul, Romans 8:28).  I predict it will be a breath of fresh air.

So, Church – do not bemoan change, just grab this opportunity and run with it!    Remember: “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

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Blessings this Pentecost!

Patricia

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Revival!

Acts 2:41 records the first intake of souls into ‘the church’ after the death of Jesus.

Peter, emboldened and inspired by the Holy Spirit, had made an impassioned speech to the people gathered together in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, declaring to them in no uncertain terms that they had in fact crucified the promised Messiah. So powerful was his speech, backed up by scripture, that most of the hearers were shocked and ashamed.

The outcome on that day was the first great influx of converts into the new body of Christ:
“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”

This was the work of the Holy Spirit, evidenced not only by the tongues of fire that the apostles had seen descending upon them (Acts 2:2-3), but also by the eloquent flow of Peter’s words and the unprecedented conversion power of what he had to say.

There is a lot of talk at the present time about an upcoming revival – a new and mighty intake of souls into the body of Christ. This revival can only be accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit, operating through believers. Those churches that have fallen away from recognizing the ministry of the Holy Spirit on this earth must turn back from their apostasy.   It will assuredly hamper any efforts they make to bring revival in their midst.

Take heed:

  • “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26)
  • “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;” (John 16:8)
  • “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (John 16:13)

The message is clear.

Digital – Macromedia Fireworks MX.  For further details and products, click on the image.

Patricia
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Peace, Be Still!

On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him.

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!”

And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.

But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:35-41)

 

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Digital art – vector in Macromedia Fireworks MX.

Patricia
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The Goads

“I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’

And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’” (Acts 26:13-18 KJV)

So began the momentous conversion from Saul the persecutor to Paul the apostle.

Saul was blind for 3 days. His release from blindness, both physical and spiritual, was brought about by his conversion through Ananias, a believer in the Damascus church that he had intended to destroy.

This would not have been the first encounter between Saul and Jesus. It is highly likely that Saul’s zeal in persecuting Christians was his attempt to overcome the first seeds of doubt in his own faith sown over months as the Jewish leaders heard and challenged Jesus’ teachings in the temple courtyard and the marketplace.

The brilliant argument put up by Stephen which led to his death by stoning drove yet another wedge into Saul’s belief in his faith.       And so he went on an all-out rampage to destroy Christ’s followers – even requesting a commission from the High Priest for this Damascus assignment to arrest Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial.

Jesus knew right well what state of mind Saul was in. Saul was in turmoil: the foundations of his faith, as a disciple of the great Jewish teacher Gamaliel, were under threat. Hence Christ’s reference to ‘kicking against the goads’ (pricks of conscience). Saul’s behavior in attacking the church was going to cause him greater pain even though he didn’t realize it. He wasn’t fighting against people, he was fighting against God.

He was the author of his own discomfort.

We bring about our own troubles by wrong beliefs and wrong behavior – the whole Bible (especially the Old Testament) is evidence of that. But God knows how to use evil to bring about good outcomes. Paul’s story is one of the greatest examples.

As one of the most highly educated men of his age, with dual citizenship and at least 3 languages, Paul became the main initiator of God’s purpose to bring Christianity to the Gentiles, and in the process wrote letters to the Gentile churches in Asia Minor, Greece and Italy, that form approx 28% of the New Testament.

Patricia
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2020 – Write The Vision

“I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.

And the Lord answered me, and said, ‘Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, that he may run that reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and it will not lie: though it delay, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not fail.’” (Habakkuk 2:2-3)

Have you a vision for 2020? Have you a vision for yourself, your family, your city, your country, or for the world?

More importantly – have you asked the Father what vision He has for 2020? For “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it.” (Psalm 127:1)

I am sure all of us, looking back over our lives, see a litany of undertakings that failed, or failed to reach their full potential, because we stepped out without consulting the All-Knowing One. The writer of Proverbs said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

So this year, this great new decade that begins with 2020, there are 2 things that will be useful by way of ‘New Year’s Resolutions’: first, to write down our own visions for the future; to keep the record (“make it plain upon tablets”), look at it often, and be prepared to change it as necessary. Second, to seek the Lord to find out what His will is – not only in the longer term future and the big world picture, but also in the everyday happenings in our lives. Again, we must keep a record and not expect instantaneous answers or instantaneous results. The Lord does not work that way. He is committed to ‘process’, because process is what refines and develops us and our faith.

We need to ask the question, press in with it, and stay alert for the coming of His answer – “at the end it shall speak, and it will not lie: though it delay, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not fail.”

We constantly thwart His process because we ask and when we don’t get a fast answer we give up, stop listening, and go our own way. Don’t do that – keep pressing in and paying attention. Wait upon the Lord!

I can think of one occasion when I had a week to make a pretty important decision.  All week, I continued to ask the question, “Lord, what am I to decide about this issue?”.  Gradually my thoughts about the situation began to settle and clarify, and by the end of the week, I knew quite clearly what my answer had to be.  Looking back, I am glad I did not run with my first ‘take’ on the matter.

When His answer comes, then run with it. He gives us the answer with the intention “that he may run that reads it.”   If we know it is His will, we must step out in faith, That means taking the first steps, even if you do not know how things will turn out, or how the vision will be achieved – THAT is what living by faith is about.

“Behold, he whose soul is lifted up [proud] is not upright in Him: but the just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

One step at a time.

Digital – assembled in Macromedia Fireworks MX.   Inkwell from the Scriptorium of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Khirbet Qumran, before 68AD.

Patricia
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Ask – Seek – Knock

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:7-12)

One of the reasons Jesus was a disappointment to the worldly folk among those He ministered to, was their expectation that the Messiah would bring worldly success and earthly treasures – conquest over their enemies and wealth as a nation and individually.

Most of Jesus’ messages and parables on the other hand – and indeed the whole purpose of His life – were aimed at giving His followers something far more important: security in the eternity to come.

The importance of pressing into the REAL directive of this quotation cannot be given too much emphasis.  The quote expresses the supreme importance of seeking after TRUTH, as the main purpose of this life.

It is not the offer of a heavenly vending machine that will spit out the goodies of life on demand, as some modern churches are trying to have us believe. The ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is one of those highly dangerous end-time deceptions referred to in Matthew 24, the Lord’s final words of warning before He went to His death.

Indeed, it is one of the most wicked deceptions ever perpetrated by the enemy, all the more so because it is being offered from within the church.

Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many  …  But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:11, 13)

Beloved, let us not be deceived.

Patricia
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