From Rags To Righteous

I want to talk to you about one of our most original and endearing Christmas traditions: The Ugly Christmas Sweater.

Sweaters decorated for Christmas made their appearance in the 1950’s. They were known as “Jingle Bell Sweaters,” and featured Christmas themed decorations. The sweaters were not intended to be ugly.

The Google says that the first ever ugly sweater party was hosted in 2002 in Vancouver, British Columbia by two men named Chris Boyd and Jordan Birch.

Every year since, what they call The Original Ugly Christmas Sweater Party has been held at the Commodore Ballroom.

The annual party has a dress code

What do you think it is? Yep – An ugly Christmas sweater. You won’t be admitted without one.

Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse in Scottsdale AZ has an unusual dress code. If anybody comes in wearing a necktie, a server will sneak up on them with a pair of scissors and cut it off. The clipped necktie then joins thousands of others hanging from the ceiling.

You might recall the episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry was invited to join the exclusive Friars Club. When he arrived, he was initially denied entrance. The club had a dress code: Men must wear a suit or sport jacket.

No shirt… No shoes… No service is now, No mask… No Entering. Thanks, COVID19.

Long ago, before COVID19, couples were married in ceremonies that included invited guests. The bride and groom may not have insisted on a dress code for their guests, but most if not all of their friends and family adhered to basic wardrobe appropriateness.

There is a wedding with a dress code in the Gospel of Matthew.

To be accurate, it is a parable Jesus told using a wedding celebration to describe an important truth about Heaven. It reads (in part) like this:

Mat 22:2 The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son…
Mat 22:11 … when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.
Mat 22:12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.

In many ancient cultures, a king provided garments for his guests to insure that they would appear before him properly dressed. In the Old Testament Book of Genesis, Joseph was a prisoner in an Egyptian jail. When the Pharaoh called for him to come and interpret his dreams, “they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:14).

The king in Jesus’ parable furnished the invited guests with a “wedding garment.” To come to the celebration and refuse the garment was a terrible insult. The man without the proper wedding garment could expect to be denied entrance or to be thrown-out.

A Bible parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It is a teaching aid to simplify spiritual truths. Listen to what Jesus said next.

Mat 22:13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

You were definitely not expecting anything like that. Maybe ask him to leave; but “outer darkness… Weeping and gnashing of teeth?”

Where is that, anyway? It’s not on earth. That is language the Bible uses to describe Hell. It is a place of separation from God; a place of eternal, conscious torment.

It might be good to pause and identify the main players & places in the parable:

The King represents God the Father.
The Son represents Jesus Christ.
The wedding celebration represents the joy of being in Heaven for eternity.
Those wearing a wedding garment are people who have believed in Jesus Christ and are thereby properly dressed.
The man without a garment represents all who in unbelief reject Jesus as their Savior.

Heaven has a strict dress code.

Any person without the proper garment violates Heaven’s dress code, and not only can he or she not enter – You are remanded to Hell for eternity.

What is so important about this garment? Why do we need it?

We can begin to answer that by explaining how we are dressed without this garment.

When God looks at a person, from Heaven, He sees him or her differently than we do. There is a passage in an Old Testament book, the Book of Zechariah, that will explain what I mean.

In the passage, the High Priest of Israel, who’s name was Joshua, was on earth in the Jewish Temple performing his duties.

(This is not the Joshua who led Israel into their Promised Land. Joshua was a popular Jewish name).

Zec 3:1  Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD…

On the earth, Joshua was ministering in the Jewish Temple.
In the unseen supernatural realm, Joshua was standing before the LORD

The High Priest had a unique wardrobe that was his dress code. His garments were magnificent. He wore, for example, a breastplate with twelve precious stones – one to represent each of the twelve tribes of Israel. These jewels were in gold settings. In the first row, there was a ruby, a topaz, and an emerald; in the second row, a carbuncle, a sapphire, and a diamond; in the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and in the fourth row, a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper.

The High Priest wore a total of eight different holy garments. Of these, four were of the same type worn by all priests, and four were unique to him.

Listen to this description of his garments:

The high priest had two sets of holy garments: The “golden garments,” and a set of white “linen garments” which he wore only on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). On that day, he would change his holy garments four times, beginning in the golden garments but changing into the linen garments for the two moments when he would enter the Holy of Holies, and then change back again into the golden garments after each time. He would immerse in the ritual bath before each change of garments, washing his hands and his feet after removing the garments and again before putting the other set on.

If in our passage it was the Day of Atonement, Heaven was watching Joshua as he went through the rituals, changing from one outfit and back again.

You know the expression, You can’t judge a book by its cover? Joshua looked his best, ‘covered’ by his beautiful and costly garments, and washed. He didn’t look that way to everyone:

Zec 3:3  Now Joshua [the High Priest] was clothed with filthy garments…

The word “filthy” means smeared with human excrement.  

There’s a scene in Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves, the Kevin Costner version, involving filthy rags. A master of disguise, Robin Hood robed himself with the torn and tattered garments of a beggar in order to avoid being detected while visiting Maid Marian in the church.

To make it even more believable, he picked-up dung from the road, and rubbed it all over his robe. He was filthy.

Warning: The next few minutes might gross you out. To put it another way – little boys will love it!

I think you’d be surprised at how many people each year fall into cess pools or septic tanks.

Ralph Santos, 88, was weed whacking in his backyard when a cesspool collapsed creating a sink hole. Santos fell into the hole, holding his head above the contents of the cesspool using the electrical cord from the weed whacker. He was found a short time later by his wife, who called 911.

In other ‘filthy’ news… A man charged with the first-degree murder of a New Orleans police officer, delayed the jury selection in his trial by rubbing feces on his own face, head, and mouth in the courtroom. He was declared incompetent to stand trial.

In 2018, a United Airlines flight bound from Chicago to Hong Kong was diverted to an emergency landing in Alaska when a passenger started (quote) “smearing feces everywhere.”

Did you know that there are several conditions that can make your breath smell like feces? Bowel obstruction, ketoacidosis, liver failure, and something I can’t pronounce whose acronym is GERD.

I’m not trying to gross you out. The fact is, this is an exceedingly gross image that the Bible uses to get the point across.

Did Joshua fall into sewage rushing to the Temple? Why would he minister in the Temple in such stained and spoiled garments?

He didn’t fall – but Adam did!  We call the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the “fall.”

God created them in His image, with genuine free-will.
Not only did being in the image of God mean they had to have free-will. It was also necessary for them to have a choice because love cannot be forced, or it ceases to be love.

Our original parents chose poorly. They “fell,” bringing ruin upon God’s creation. They saw themselves as naked. God saw them as being clothed in filthy rags.

We left Joshua in the Temple. You are being shown the same man, in the same garments, from two perspectives.

From the natural and earthly perspective, his garments were fine.

From the supernatural and heavenly perspective, his garments were filthy.

The Bible describes every human being that way

The Bible says, “all of our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” God sees us, in our natural state, as if we are wearing filthy rags. You and I are feces-breathed, dung-smeared, cess pool floaters.

None of us are righteous. We all fall short of the glory of God. We are all sinners.

There are so many really, really evil people in the world that it can be hard to believe you are too sinful to be allowed into Heaven. That’s where God’s Law can clarify. Jesus once said,

Mat 5:21 “You have heard that it was said… ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’
Mat 5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…

Each of us has been angry. It is not equivalent to murder, but it is evidence that something is wrong deep within us.

Billy Graham often said, “The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.” All of us have broken many of God’s laws in our hearts.

Breaking even one law, one time, is more than enough to keep us out of Heaven.

Have you ever lied, no matter how white the lie was?
Ever stolen anything, no matter how small?
Have you ever coveted something?

The answer is, “Yes.” We have all broken God’s law; we are all guilty. The fact that someone might be a worse sinner doesn’t change the fact I am a sinner.

God intervened on behalf of Joshua:

Zec 3:4  Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”

The robe God was speaking of wasn’t a physical garment. It was unseen by men on earth, but visible to beings in Heaven.

You need a robe to enter Heaven; a very particular robe. In another place in the Bible, in the Old Testament Book Isaiah, we read,

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10).

God can provide you with a robe, called here “the robe of righteousness.” With it, you are a welcomed guest; you are properly dressed for Heaven.

In the wedding garment story Jesus told; and in the verse we just read; the robe is given to you: “He has clothed me… He has covered me…”

The same was true with Joshua. It was given to him, freely.

The robe of righteousness is not deserved, and it cannot be earned. It must be given to you – it is a free gift from God. We call this free gift of God salvation by grace, through faith

Where do we get this robe of righteousness? It is only found in one place: At the Cross of Jesus Christ.

His death on the Cross was sufficient to ‘robe’ all sinners. He is the Savior of all men – especially those who believe in Him.

There’s a verse that explains Jesus’ death on the Cross as if it were an exchange. It reads like this:

2Co 5:21  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

A paraphrase of that is, “God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.”

Jesus was severely beaten prior to His Crucifixion.

He was stripped of His clothing, nailed naked to the Cross.

Heaven saw Him differently. He had righteousness to give, as you would give a robe, to all who would believe in Him.

Think of it as a one-sided gift exchange. Jesus gives you His righteousness and takes upon Himself your filthiness.

Jesus gives you the robe of righteousness you must have in order to enter Heaven and avoid Hell.

It is an exclusive garment

Jesus alone has the robe of righteousness to give.

He is the unique God-man, the only One righteous, Who rose from the dead showing He alone has power to save you.

No religious leader, or religion, can give you the robe.
No philosopher, or philosophy, can give you the robe.
No other supernatural being can give you the robe.

I am sure some of you frustrate yourselves by playing golf. Even if you’re not a golfer, you’ve heard of the Masters Tournament.

Since 1949, a green jacket has been awarded to the champion. It is a garment you can only get in one place on earth.

The robe we are talking about can only be gotten at the Cross.

All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; none of us is righteous enough to deserve Heaven.

What we deserve for sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

You must receive your robe before you die. There is no chance to ask for it after death.

The exchange takes place the instant you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior.

Again I emphasize that the robe is given freely. At the Friars Club, Jerry Seinfeld‘s problem was solved when the management provided a jacket for him. All he had to do was accept it.

A fun-fact about the robe: Once you’ve received it, you’re encouraged to adorn it

The whole of Isaiah 61:10 reads, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.  As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

You are given your robe of righteousness when you receive Jesus as your Savior.  Afterwards you have the privilege of adorning your robe with “jewels.”  

In my role as a law enforcement Chaplain, I’ve over the years worked with the Lion’s Clubs. At their meetings they wear vests that are adorned with pins and patches they’ve received in service to the club and the community. Lots of service clubs do the same.

You don’t earn or add to your salvation; but you can receive rewards to adorn your robe.  

In the passage in which the apostle Paul talks about our being rewarded by Jesus for our good works after we have been saved, he describes them as “gold, silver, precious stones” (First Corinthians 3:12).

I want to look good for Jesus. It’s not a competition with other believers. It’s between Him and me.

The Bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of Grace
Not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand:
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land

If you’re a believer in Christ, stay busy be-dazzling your robe by discovering the good works that Jesus has before ordained for you to walk in.

If you are not a believer in Christ, consider this

You’ve seen celebrities on the red carpet.

As they make their way towards the event, they stop to chat with reporters. They almost always ask the women especially, “Who are you wearing?” To which they answer Vera Wang, or Armani, or Calvin Klein.

If you’re not in Christ… Who are you wearing, hoping to get into Heaven without His robe? Buddha? Joseph Smith? L. Ron Hubbard?

None of them died for you.
None of them took upon themselves your filthy rags in exchange for the righteousness needed to enter Heaven.
None of them rose from the dead with the power to save you, and to sanctify you, and to glorify you.

No Jesus… No robe… No Heaven

Ways To Go (Acts 22:1-22)

Wrong way driving cause hundreds of traffic deaths each year. Though they account for only 3% of car crashes, one study showed that wrong way accidents can be 27 times as lethal as others. Surprisingly, wrong way accidents are on the rise in multiple states. Arizona saw a significant rise in 2019. And something’s going on in Wisconsin: in 2018 police recorded 500 wrong-way driving incidents, compared to 300 incidents in 2015, 2016 and 2017 combined!

In the 14th chapter of Proverbs we are presented with a chilling verse:

Proverbs 14:12 – 12 There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.

If our lives hang in the balance, it natural for us to want to know the right way to go. The way that leads to life instead of death. Luckily, actually, lovingly, God not only gives us a warning, He also help us with instruction. He comforts us with many verses like:

Psalm 73:24 – 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me up in glory.

Psalm 32:8 – 8 I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with my eye on you, I will give counsel.

When we left off, Paul found himself on a staircase, saved from a violent mob who was trying to beat him to death. With his life in the balance, Paul asked to speak to the crowd. Tonight we will see him give a personal testimony of how he was on the road that led to death but was now going God’s way. In other words, he recounts his origin story to them.

It won’t turn out to be very effective for this hard-hearted crowd, but for us it is helpful and inspiring because in Paul’s story we see how a person starts to walk with God, to go God’s way rather than the human way, which leads to ruin, destruction and death. And it is particularly instructive to us since it was Paul himself who said: “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” That can seem like too high a bar sometimes. Because, after all, Paul was an apostle. He was uniquely used by God to change history. He was a miracle-worker and had visions of the risen Christ. Though we don’t expect those elements to be a part of our own experience, it’s good to remember that Paul was a man like us. He didn’t always know what to do in his walk with the Lord. He was led just as we are to be led. In the end we know that he finished well and made it to the glorious destination that we are aiming toward. So, seeing that change from taking man’s way to taking the Lord’s way should rouse our hearts.

We begin in verse 1.

Acts 22:1 – “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense before you.”

His friendliness almost makes us forget that these people, just moments earlier, were savagely beating him to death. Paul had an immense love in his heart for his fellow man, even his enemies. He sees them as family. Sometimes he reminds me of Dug in Up who had that wonderful line, “I just met you and I LOVE you!” Paul’s affection reminds us that the way of God is a way of love and grace. The more excellent way. God’s way is not one of hatred and resentment and division. It’s the way of love and grace.

Acts 22:2 – 2 When they heard that he was addressing them in Aramaic, they became even quieter.

You’ll hear a buzz-term in Christian circles: “Engaging culture.” It’s the topic of conferences and seminars. No one ever really nails down what it means, but as you listen you get the distinct impression that the message of the Gospel probably needs to change in order to become more palatable to a secularized world. I think we see an excellent example of “engaging culture” right here. Out of the languages Paul could speak, he spoke with the one that everyone would understand. He didn’t preach to them in Latin, which would’ve been foreign. Or Greek which would’ve excluded many. But he also didn’t fashion the Gospel to their tastes. The Gospel is meant to be counter cultural. To engage culture means to communicate the once-delivered truth of the Scripture in a way that will, hopefully, save people out of their bankrupt culture.

But a second insight here: This important message wasn’t delivered with everyone shouting over everyone. Our culture right now is a yelling culture. No one wants to listen. Social media has tossed common courtesy out of the window. It does no good to blow up at people and rage at them. That’s not the way to convince people they’re wrong about life.

Acts 22:3 – 3 He continued, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strictness of our ancestral law. I was zealous for God, just as all of you are today.

Before he was a Christian, Paul was the pinnacle of human achievement. Intellectually, educationally, religiously, culturally. He was the smartest, most disciplined expert in the room. He was a brilliant, enthusiastic nationalist – a Jedi Knight of Judaism. What was the result of his unmatched, advanced devotion to his way of life?

Acts 22:4-5 – 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, arresting and putting both men and women in jail, 5 as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. After I received letters from them to the brothers, I traveled to Damascus to arrest those who were there and bring them to Jerusalem to be punished.

Death. Like Anakin Skywalker or Harvey Dent, the one who was supposed to be the best hero took his road and ended up a killer. Elsewhere Paul talks about how, in his fury, he compelled people to blaspheme God. How he hunted them and hurt them and acted in whatever way he could to destroy.

Man’s roads lead to death. Eternal death for the individual and death for people around them. Now, as Christians, we still want to take some notes from Saul’s example. Legalism does not lead to growth but to devastation. Saul was the most religious person on the planet, yet he was the greatest enemy of God at the time. In our own lives, if we turn from the path of grace to the path of legalism it will kill compassion in our hearts, it will dismantle mercy, it will destroy spiritual fruit.

Now, since we know Paul’s story, we also know that his life isn’t just a cautionary tale, it is one of the greatest redemption stories of all time. He had been the chief crusader, sent out to annihilate God’s people through whatever means he could and now he has completely turned around, is on a new road, not only headed toward heaven, but a road full of peace and compassion toward others. And in this we see one of the most important contrasts between man’s way and God’s way. On man’s way the mentality is: “Join us or die.” But that’s not how we act on God’s way. Don’t get me wrong: The choice is a life and death decision. But as we go God’s way we don’t act like crusaders. We don’t bulldoze anyone who stands in our way. We don’t try to crush opposition. What did the Christians do in Acts? They presented the Gospel, they endured persecution and escaped it when possible, but they never militarized against those who weren’t with them. Think of when Paul went through Cyprus. He preached to the governor of the island and the man was saved. They didn’t then establish a commission to outlaw unbelievers or go to war with them. Because our mission isn’t to destroy, it’s to build. Our marching orders are to rescue not retaliate.

Acts 22:6-8 – 6 “As I was traveling and approaching Damascus, about noon an intense light from heaven suddenly flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 “I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, the one you are persecuting.’

Paul thought himself enlightened, and (according to man’s way) he was. But that was a total darkness in comparison to the light of Jesus Christ. On the road to Damascus Paul was brought to the stunning realization that, even though he had dedicated his entire life to honoring God, he had completely missed the mark. He didn’t even recognize the Messiah when He came.

Looking at our Lord in this scene we can notice some tender things about Him. First, He still identified with us. He called Himself “Jesus of Nazareth.” As far as I know, when Journey performed Steve Perry didn’t come out and say, “Before we get started I want you all to know I’m from HANFORD!” But our Lord will remain the GodMan, God with us, forever and ever.

Second, in this encounter we see Christ’s astounding mercy. Remember who Saul was and what he was doing. There was no greater enemy of Jesus than this man on planet earth. In our way of thinking, the Lord should’ve met him with a lightning bolt or some plague. But instead He met Saul with mercy and invitation.

Imagine, for a moment, that SEAL Team 6 made it into Osama Bin Laden’s compound that night in 2011, broke in, knocked him down, then said, “We want you to come with us. We’re going to grant you American citizenship and fill your account with an inexhaustible supply of resources. And then we’re going to make a place for you in the US Government.”

Our crimes against God deserve nothing but capital punishment. Yet He extends mercy and love.

Acts 22:9 – 9 Now those who were with me saw the light, but they did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me.

There were witnesses to what had happened. The way Paul walked with God was rooted in reality and truth and revelation. He didn’t base his spiritual life on trends or false prophecies or worldly philosophies packaged to look like religion. It was based off of the true revelation and reality.

Acts 22:10 – 10 “I said, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ “The Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything that you have been assigned to do.’

Right at this beginning moment of Paul going God’s way we see that he was assigned and commanded. So far, he had been going his own way according to what he thought would be best. But, from this point on, he was going to be directed by God.

Going God’s way means we must obey. He leads, we follow. Paul recognized that he was under the authority of a Master. He acknowledged that Jesus was Lord. To go God’s way does not mean we choose to make God a ‘mentor’ to us. It means we acknowledge what is true: That He is King and we are His servants. The rest of Paul’s life would be under the direction and command of his Lord.

Ephesians 2:10 – 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

Like Paul, these are things we must do. And so we accept that we are no longer the chief executives of our lives. We never were, but we’re especially not now. You are, instead, called to be a willing participant in the will of God, following as He leads according to His purposes and timing.

The Bible demonstrates that God’s people can leave the path of His will. Think of Moses killing the Egyptian. Or John Mark abandoning the missionaries. Peter going fishing after the crucifixion. Rather than assume we know best for our lives, we must continually be led by the Lord in what He would have us do. He said to Paul, “You’ll be told everything.” And so will we. We’ve been given the Word to guides us. We’ve been given the Holy Spirit to indwell us. We’ve been given fellow Christians to assist us and encourage us. Give the Lord the helm to your life and then follow in His ways.

Acts 22:11 – 11 “Since I couldn’t see because of the brightness of the light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and went into Damascus.

Paul was still a genius, but the Lord was teaching him that, on this new way, he would have to be led. God wants to lead us by the hand, too.

Psalm 139:9-10 – 9 If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, 10 even there your hand will lead me; your right hand will hold on to me.

We don’t always know which way to go in life, how to respond to different situations. But the Lord does and we can trust Him to lead us. The question is not whether He will lead, the question is whether we’re interested in following His guiding hand.

Acts 22:12-13 – 12 Someone named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, who had a good reputation with all the Jews living there, 13 came and stood by me and said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’ And in that very hour I looked up and saw him.

Paul had described the Jews as “zealous.” It was a term all wrapped up in politics and nationalism and agitation. But he described Ananias as “devout.” It means circumspect and Godly. We see that he was not a man who went around making enemies. Even facing persecution he still maintained good relationships with the Jews around him. And he, too, was a man led by God. Led to do something completely unpredictable, completely inadvisable, something he was, frankly, unqualified to do, and yet – because he went God’s way in faith – he was used to change the course of history.

Thinking about how all this played out we’re reminded that God’s way is a way of restoration. God has overcome the world, but His victory is more than just putting down His enemies. He restores people and transforms their lives. Looking back, we don’t want a blind, powerless Saul. We want an unstoppable Paul! But that requires grace and Christians willing to be agents of grace.

Acts 22:14-15 – 14 And he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the words from his mouth, 15 since you will be a witness for him to all people of what you have seen and heard.

This general calling: To know God’s will, to hear God’s word, to follow the Messiah and testify about Him to others, that’s our calling as well. The specific obstacles and opportunities each of us are presented with will vary, but this is the way of God that we’re to walk in. It’s a way that requires faith and trust, but it is a path every single one of us can make progress on as we move through life.

Notice, the assignment wasn’t, “Go figure out how to make a successful Gentile church.” God already knew how to do that. No, the assignment was, “Follow the Lord’s navigation. Go with Him as He leads you and bring others along if they are willing.”

Acts 22:16 – 16 And now, why are you delaying? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Don’t be troubled into thinking that this verse is saying baptism is necessary for salvation. It isn’t. There are a lot of linguistic reasons. But we also know that there were about 10 baptisms in the book of Acts and, often, salvation and Spirit-filling preceded baptism. The New Testament is clear that salvation is by grace, through faith, not of works.

So, what about baptism? Well, water baptism is commanded by Jesus. In one sense it’s like getting a new job and filling out that W-4 form. It’s part of the job, right? Baptism is important and wonderful and a significant part of doing that witness work we’re called to, but it does not remove your sin.

Acts 22:17-18 – 17 “After I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him telling me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’

They wouldn’t receive his testimony. Does that mean Paul had failed in his assignments? No. As we go God’s way we are responsible for ourselves. We’re to be burdened for others, but, in the end, we cannot force people to join us.

Acts 22:19-20 – 19 “But I said, ‘Lord, they know that in synagogue after synagogue I had those who believed in you imprisoned and beaten. 20 And when the blood of your witness Stephen was being shed, I stood there giving approval and guarding the clothes of those who killed him.’

First, we see here that going God’s way means sometimes our own wisdom will be confounded. Paul was simply wrong about how things were going to shake out. Luckily, he believed the Lord and submitted to His leading. It helped him avoid disaster.

Second, we see how terribly priorities get skewed when we are going man’s way. There was Saul, making sure nothing bad happened to the clothes of people who were illegally murdering a man. We wouldn’t want any coats to get ripped or taken, that would be wrong!

But we also can take such comfort in the fact that God can redeem and restore and transform anyone. Had Paul not gone God’s way, verse 20 would’ve been his legacy. But God saved him and changed him and made something beautiful out of his life. Maybe you’ve made terrible mistakes in life, fallen short in your callings or responsibilities. So did Paul. And Moses and David and Jonah and Peter. God is powerful enough to bring you back and use you for a glorious, eternal legacy.

Acts 22:21 – 21 “He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

This was not Paul’s plan. It probably wasn’t even Paul’s desire. He wanted all men everywhere to be saved, but his heart was for his countrymen. But going God’s way means surrendering your heart and your helm to His leading. Maybe you think you have some great plan, but be sure to ask God if He agrees. Because you want to have a reason for being the places you find yourself in life and in ministry. When Paul was in Jerusalem or Cyprus or Corinth he could say, “I’m here because God led me here.” John Mark couldn’t say the same at certain points. David couldn’t say that when he was hiding in Philistine territory. Lot couldn’t say that when he pitched his tents toward Sodom. Going God’s way means following His prescribed itinerary for your life. One commentator says: “The Lord views all or goings as ‘rewardable’ or ‘judgable.’ Indeed, we are eternally held accountable for every decision we make…This truth calls each of us, all the time, to a…life [driven by] God’s purpose!”

This reality shouldn’t frighten us, but excite us since we know God is ready to lead us on His way, which is full of joy and and growth and life and meaning.

Acts 22:22 – 22 They listened to him up to this point. Then they raised their voices, shouting, “Wipe this man off the face of the earth! He should not be allowed to live!”

Men going their own way are only willing to listen to a point. Ultimately, if they want to continue heading down their own path they will either have to reject God’s message or stop, turn around and go with Him, forsaking their previous path.

Their hard-heartedness came at an incredible cost. They missed the most valuable treasure imaginable, they turned down the opportunity of a lifetime. In going this way many sealed their fate of judgment and death. And, once again, their way led to ruin. Ruin for themselves, for others and their nation.

God’s way is the way we want to go. It can seem daunting or confusing, but we see that it can be done. It’s not always easy, but it is simple. We are to be led. Led in our movements. Led in our decisions. Led into the will of God as He accomplishes good work through us. Stay on that path, abiding in Christ, and in the end we too will lay hold of all that we truly want and all that God wants for us as He leads us into glory.

I Gotta Have More Cymbal! (Psalm 150)

Songwriters call it “staggered.” It’s when a song is arranged so that it starts with one vocalist or instrument, then adds more vocals and instruments gradually.

Behind Blue Eyes by The Who is a good example. It starts with a single guitar… Then a single vocalist comes in… Then more and more vocals…
Then the bass… Then another guitar… Then 2:20 into it, the full band.

Metallica’s Enter Sandman and In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins are similarly staggered.

If you’re much of a classic rock fan, you can probably think of a few songs that start calm, but build, then at a certain point, you gotta crank the dial to full as they bring it. Stairway to Heaven, for example.

OK, you’re a fan of Country Music. The first staggered song that comes to mind: The Gambler, by the late Kenny Rogers. It opens with some finger picking… Then vocals… Then there’s some kind of percussion that sounds like a combination of a wooden block and dripping water. Instruments continue to build after that until the full band joins in.

Psalm 150 is staggered, and it builds:

It opens with what reads like a vocal solo in verses one and two.
In verses three through five, no less than eight instruments are introduced one-at-a-time, and some of those are plural.
The last verse is a turn-the-dial-to-full volume involving “everything that has breath.”

We’d expect nothing less from the closing psalm.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Your Praise Is Possessive As God’s Plan For You Builds, and #2 Your Praise Is Progressive As God’s Plan For You Builds.

#1 – Your Praise Is Possessive As God’s Plan For You Builds (v1-2)

The psalms are songs. We may not have the sheet music; but we must remember that they are songs.

In our commitment to teach verse-by-verse, we are driven to exposit the psalms as we do the historical books, or the Gospels, or the Epistles. If we do that with psalms, we are cheating ourselves.

Songs tend to elicit emotions and feelings. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired to feel by a psalm. In fact, we should get emotional.

If Psalm 150 doesn’t elicit strong feelings, we’re not doing it justice.

Psa 150:1  Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament!

The final five psalms begin and end with “Praise the LORD,” i.e., “Hallelujah!” It’s good to be reminded that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

There is going to be a lot of praising in our future. We won’t be sitting around playing harps, doing nothing. It’s more like everything will be so truly awesome that praising the LORD will be a constant. There’s a scene in chapter five of the Revelation where “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” of angels break out in praise, followed by “every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them… saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

In our psalm, the people of God were gathered at His “sanctuary,” probably the Second Temple.

Around 586BC, King Nebuchadnezzar’s troops destroyed the first Temple – built by Solomon. They were held as captives in Babylon for 70 years.
The Second Temple was built by Zerubbabel and others after the Jews returned from captivity. It is sometimes called, Zerubbabel’s Temple. In New Testament times, Herod was remodeling Zerubbabel’s Temple into the magnificent structure most of us think of today. It is sometimes referred to as Herod’s Temple. But Herod’s Temple is still considered to be the Second Temple.

(If you’re counting, the Temple that we read about in the Great Tribulation will be the third).

The Temple in Jerusalem was the real estate on the earth that God had prescribed in order to meet with Israel. Concerning the Ark of the Covenant that would be placed in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, we read in Exodus, “And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel” (25:22).

I’m sure you’ve been to a music concert of some sort. The audience listens excitedly to the performance.

If the psalms have taught us anything, it is that in the sanctuary, the people were not an audience. They were participants.

Today, in the Church Age, there is no physical Temple. “Sanctuary” has a different meaning. At least two, in fact:

Jesus makes His sanctuary in the individual believer. In First Corinthians 3:16 we read, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

Jesus also makes His sanctuary among His people collectively. In Second Corinthians 6:16, speaking of the gathered believers, the apostle Paul said, “For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM. I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.”

We’re not an audience when we are gathered as the church. By our very presence, we are expected to be participants. Pastor Chuck Smith used to say that we are the choir.

Corporate worship should not be a performance. The worship team is here to lead us into our singing so that, all together, we are praising Jesus.

“Praise Him in His mighty firmament!” can be translated, Praise Him in the heavens.” The psalmist’s thoughts became elevated beyond life on the earth. He became aware that he was standing in the presence of Almighty God… In the specific place on earth that the LORD chose… Surrounded by the universe.

Think of it like this. David once sung, “What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalm 8:4).

It was that same awareness that all the universe, and the earth in it, and the Temple on the earth, was created with the sole purpose of God having a relationship with me; with you; with whosoever will believe on Him.

Nonbelievers think it is ignorant and arrogant to suggest that the earth has that much significance in our vast universe.

That is largely because they scoff at, and immediately dismiss, special creation. When you approach Genesis as literal history, given to us by God (Who was there), you see that creation was necessary so that He could make man in His image, and walk in a loving relationship with us.

Is that arrogant? I’d say it was romantic.

How many songs are there about what you’d give to the one you love if only you could?

Your Song has been covered by many artists:

I don’t have much money, but boy, if I did,
I’d buy a big house where we both could live.
I know it’s not much, but it’s the best I can do.
My gift is my song and this one’s for you.

In All I Have to Give, the Backstreet Boys sing, “I wish I could give the world to you but love is all I have to give.” Not very original, but you get the idea.

Well guess what? God IS in a position to give the world to us. His love for us is extravagant. Why wouldn’t He create a universe for us?

Have you watched It’s a Wonderful Life this season? Trying to convey his love for Mary, George says to her, “What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word, and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.”

The word I’m using to convey all this is possessive. It’s a word that can carry a negative connotation. But not if you are in love. As a romance word, it is endearing. It suggests a healthy desire to keep and protect the one you love.

Psa 150:2  Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!

We might be tempted to think of “His mighty acts” as the parting of the Red Sea for Moses; or the day the sun stood still for Joshua; or the global flood in the days of Noah. Mighty acts indeed!

In the context set by verse one, His “mighty acts” would be His redeeming the human race by His plan to come into the world as the God-man to die in our place on the Cross. When you think about them, the flood, the Red Sea, halting the sun, were all performed by God for one purpose: To further His plan to provide the world with the Savior, Jesus Christ.

What a great start to this last psalm. The people of God were in the one place in the entire universe where the presence of God was revealed to them in a mighty way.

Wherever we are, gathered together, collectively, we are that place in the universe where God manifests His presence in mighty ways.

Jesus is possessive of us. We ought to be possessive of Him. We do it by not allowing anyone, or anything, to distract us from our beloved Bridegroom.

#2 – Your Praise Is Progressive As God’s Plan For You Builds (v3-6)

I think it’s safe to say that You’re a little bit Country, and I’m a little bit Rock n’ Roll.

Musical styles… Musical instruments… Song selection. Christians are never going to agree. And it doesn’t seem Christians want to agree to disagree.

Can we take our cue for corporate worship from the psalms? Even if we wanted to, it would be hard. Biblical Archaeology Review noted the following:

There are no ancient music notations to inform us on the music arrangements of psalms. What’s more, even though the collection of Biblical psalms as we know it from the Hebrew Bible was established quite late, the oldest psalms were likely composed already in the 14th century BC, from which we have no adequate documentation from Israelites themselves. We do not possess depictions of people performing psalms. The Bible does not tell us much about how psalms were originally performed.

God has wisely not prescribed any single liturgy. We have freedom to worship Him in new ways, with new songs.

We can say, from Psalm 150, that just about every instrument available was employed.

Psa 150:3  Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Psa 150:4  Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Psa 150:5  Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals!

Before we move on, I should say something about “Praise Him with… dance.” Every few years, dance gets reintroduced into worship, usually at an influential church. It’s mostly what you’d call ‘interpretive dance,’ a soloist or a troop praising God through their movements.

The Hebrew word for “dance” used here is machol. Since it’s a Hebrew word, in a Jewish context, let’s let a Jewish resource explain it to us:

The Bible doesn’t tell us what their dancing looked like exactly, but early Jewish literature presented the machol as a circle dance. The 16th century Jewish sage known as the Maharal of Prague explains that in a circle every person faces God, who is in the center, equally and divinely connecting to Him from all sides. At all Jewish simchas (festive occasions) such as weddings, or bat mitzvahs, and many of the Jewish holidays, you will see Jews cheerfully dancing in circles with arms tightly locked as brothers.

If you want to dance at church – lock and loop. You can use the ga-ga pit. We can rename it the Machol Pit. You can do a Machol Minuet… Or a Machol Moonwalk.

I don’t think the list of instruments in Psalm 150 was meant to be exclusive. The psalmist meant to convey that any and all instruments could be used in praising the LORD in song. Stringed or wind or percussion – properly arranged to bring attention to the LORD – use them.

One of our guiding principles here at CalvaryHanford is to recognize the gifts and abilities of the believers who decide to lock arms with us (so to speak). With regards to those who lead us as the choir… If there were no guitar players, but there were piano players… We’d be piano-led, because that’s God’s gifting to us.

If there were no musicians at all, we’d sing a cappella.

We do have some basic, bedrock ideas about style:

We prefer contemporary choruses over hymns; it’s just who we are. We were a result of the revival historians call the Jesus Movement. One of the questions we asked and answered was, “Why should the devil have all the good music?

We like order rather than chaos, so we don’t open-up Sunday mornings to the congregation sharing their individual spiritual gifts.

We can’t be sure that this psalm was staggered, starting with vocals then adding instruments one at a time, then more instruments, crescendo-ing with “loud cymbals” and “clanging cymbals.” But I’d like to think so.

Psa 150:6  Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!

I read somewhere this week, “Every breath is the gift of God and praise is the worthy response we should make for that gift.”

Derek Kidner noted that the literal phrase is, “Let all breath praise the Lord.” Then he commented, “His glory fills the universe; His praise must do no less.” .

John Trapp wrote, “We have all as much reason to praise God as we have need to draw breath.”

G. Campbell Morgan said, “The one condition of praise is the possession of breath, that is to say, life received from Him must return in praise to Him.”
Albert Barnes said, “Let a breathing universe combine in one solemn service of praise.” He was thinking ahead to eternity when the universe will have been redeemed and restored by God’s plan for it. Praise will be the vey air that we breathe.

There’s a lyric in a song by Chicago that captures a sense of what our praising God on earth is like: “Only the beginning of what I want to feel forever.”

What do I mean, your praise is progressive? Simply that you grow in praise as you make progress along God’s plan for your life. Every up, every down, and all that is in between, can further your awe at the wonder of His love for you.

Every morning you awake, God’s mercies are yours to experience in news ways. Every blessing, every buffeting, takes you deeper into His love for you.

You don’t just make progress on your path. You make progress in knowing Jesus.

When I was a young believer, Pastor Don McClure quoted Psalm 103:7, “[God] made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel.” He pointed out that Israel knew of God, through His works. But Moses knew the ways of God – His heart, His purposes, His character. He had progressed.

If you want to know the ways, and not just the works, of God, start by embracing grace. If you’re going to err, err on the side of grace. Read the Bible with grace in mind, not law. Prefer the spirit of the law, not the letter of it.

Here’s a gauge: In your Christian walk, and in ministering to others, do you emphasize what you must do for God? Or do you emphasize what God has done for you?

Thus ends the Book of Psalms. Alexander Maclaren said, “Psalm 150 is more than an artistic close of the Psalter: it is a prophecy of the last result of the devout life, and, in its unclouded sunniness, as well as in its universality, it proclaims the certain end of the weary years for the individual and for the world.”

We sing a song here, Golden City. One of its lyrics is,

Soon your trials will be over
Offered up by mercy’s hand
A better view than where you’re standing
A doorway to another land

F.B. Meyer said, “Your life may resemble the psalter with its varying moods, its light and shadow, its sob and smile; but it will end with Hallelujahs! if only you will keep true to the will and way and work of the Most Holy.”

Prophecy Update #638 – I Got You Under My Skin

These are exciting times for believers in Christ who are interested in Bible prophecy. Many things that are suggested by unfulfilled, future prophecies seem to be trending.

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to discuss some of those things. We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news and information.

We’re not saying the things we report are the fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect from reading the Bible literally.

The Mark of the Beast. Believers and nonbelievers alike have some familiarity with it. It is something having to do with your hand or forehead that will allow you to identify yourself, and to conduct all of your business. Biblically, it seems to be a system in place globally before the Beast (the antichrist) declares himself to be God. It becomes the “mark” when a person swears allegiance to the Beast.
Those who do not swear to him will be cut-off from any participation in society or commerce. They will not be able to purchase anything; and in a cashless society, that will leave them helpless.

I read about something, a new tech development, that blew my mind. I assumed it was false, it seemed so fantastic. It is, in fact, creepily true.

MIT posted an article titled, Storing medical information below the skin’s surface.

Excerpts:

MIT researchers have now developed a novel way to record a patient’s vaccination history: storing the data in a pattern of dye, invisible to the naked eye, that is delivered under the skin at the same time as the vaccine.

“In areas where paper vaccination cards are often lost or do not exist at all, and electronic databases are unheard of, this technology could enable the rapid and anonymous detection of patient vaccination history to ensure that every[one] is vaccinated,” says Kevin McHugh, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University.

The researchers showed that their new dye, which consists of nanocrystals called quantum dots, can remain for at least five years under the skin, where it emits near-infrared light that can be detected by a specially equipped smartphone.

The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Koch Institute Support Grant from the National Cancer Institute.

https://news.mit.edu/2019/storing-vaccine-history-skin-1218

There is an internet rumor that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is funding a secret program to have a microchip implanted under your skin when you are vaccinated for COVID19. Not quite. He funded the MIT program to develop this skin-tag. Whether or not it is in the COVID19 shot is not known.

It’s not the Mark of the Beast. It is one of the many possible advances that could function as the future tech that becomes the Mark. Others include facial recognition, iris scans, palm prints, vein scans, and a lot more.

I’m simply pointing out that this was predicted over 2000 years ago by John in the Revelation.

Then, too, we’re seeing the world’s leaders calling for The Great Reset – a move towards a global economy and, eventually, a global government. Also predicted by John.

COVID19 is accelerating all these trends.

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will definitely happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will return in the clouds. He will raise the dead in Christ. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies.

We will all join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

Justice Is Deferred (Acts 21:31-40)

Yesterday, Pastor Mike McClure and other representatives from Calvary Chapel San Jose stood before a Santa Clara court and were found in contempt for continuing to hold church services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The judge ordered they pay $55,000 as a result. The church also faces county fines as high as $700,000 for keeping their doors open.

As Christians we watch these court cases with interest. Unfortunately, throughout 2020 the trend has been clear that the powers that be don’t have much of an interest in making sure Christians are able to gather before God week after week. Even when it seems like courts rule in favor of churches, thus far it hasn’t been any kind of great victory. Instead, a few courts have simply ruled that churches should be held to the same restrictive standard as any restaurant, retailer or secular business.

We know that our historic experience of religious freedom is the exception, not the norm for most Christians in most places through the last few thousand years. Yet, reading the Bible, seeing the power of God wielded on behalf of His people, hearing how the Lord talks about mountains moving and how no foe can stand against us, we might expect that Believers would chalk up a victory in every single battle. But, not every story of oppression ends with the parting of the Red Sea.

Though that is true, we need not lose hope. As we learned this past Sunday in our study of Psalm 146, good is going to win. We look forward to a future victory, one that is complete in every way. Where all injustices are righted, all injuries are mended, all insufficiencies made whole. But today we walk in the midst of trouble. And some of those troubles will not be immediately removed or overcome. But, it still surprises us.

Even reading through a book like Acts we find surprises like this. If you were reading through the book of Acts for the first time and keeping score, you’d notice that, yes, sometimes scary things happen to God’s people. But, thus far, usually the Christians come through the adversity. They come out of the dungeons. They are taken out of the chains. There have been some exceptions along the way – men like Stephen and James (the brother of John). But now we’re dealing with Paul, the man of steel! You arrest him, the earth shakes. You stone him, he comes back to life.

When we left off last time a violent mob had seized Paul after he was accused of something he would never do. Today, we see what happens next. But, many of you are familiar with the story and you know that this attack and arrest do not end in his exoneration or even escape. He’s going to stay arrested through the end of the book. In the mean time, he’ll be wrongfully imprisoned, targeted for assassination, shipwrecked, and gnawed on by a viper. Where is God when Christians take such heavy blows? And how might we stay on our feet to fight another round? Those are some of the questions before us in our passage tonight. We begin in verse 31.

Acts 21:31 – 31 As they were trying to kill him, word went up to the commander of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in chaos.

On the whole, if we were keeping score, it will feel like the good guys are losing points. As we’ve covered before, some commentators are passionate in their opinion that Paul was outside the will of God throughout this entire period, and we’ve talked about why we don’t see it that way. But even if he was, God does not base His love for you on performance. He doesn’t stop loving you or stop offering His grace when we make a mistake. Praise God for that!

But, no matter why Paul was in this situation, here he was. And the Lord was with him. He’s going to be savagely beaten, then wrongfully arrested, and he’s going to stay that way for years. Knowing that there’s a long haul of persecution ahead in his story, I am so thankful and encouraged to see marvelous notes of providence in these verses.

We see at least 2 here. First, “as they were trying to kill him.” The Temple complex was full to the brim. Paul is one man. No one is defending him. He’s got no body armor. It’s not that hard to kill someone in a situation like this. People kill individuals on black friday without even meaning to. There in 2 Kings chapter 7 the people had been besieged and were starving in the city of Samaria. God brought deliverance and when the weak and weary townsfolk rushed out to the enemy camp for food they crushed the captain of the king’s guard.

So why was it that a highly motivated, enraged mob of killers could beat Paul but were unable to kill him? I have to call it providence. Second, “word went to the commander.” How did that happen? They had strategically shut the gates of the temple. God found a way. He provided a messenger to go and deliver the necessary news to bring the soldiers in.

Why not send an angel? Why not open up the ground and swallow these blasphemers whole? Well, knowing the rest of the story we know that God’s desire was to put Paul before governors and kings. To inspire him to write more epistles. To use him as a missionary among many Roman military men.

Acts 21:32 – 32 Taking along soldiers and centurions, he immediately ran down to them. Seeing the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

Historians believe this officer would’ve been in command of 1,000 Roman soldiers. The wording here gives us the impression that he mustered at least 200 to go with him into the riot at the Temple. Despite the bedlam and the barriers, the police response time was incredible! In fact, I’d say it was providential. Years ago our house was being robbed on a Sunday morning. We happened to be at Calvary Tulare that day and my alarm company called and asked if I wanted to dispatch the police. I didn’t think anyone would actually break into my house in broad daylight on the Lord’s day, but I said they should. Even if we were be robbed, I figured it would be too late by the time the police showed up. But, as it turns out, there was an officer very near by. He arrived while our uninvited guests were still doing their thing and, despite some property damage, no harm was done.

Here you have a huge mob beating a man to death (a man who, stubbornly, won’t die!) but the peace officers were able to get right where they were needed in no time flat. That’s providence.

By the way, a scene like this highlights the fact that human beings need governance. We need police. We need laws. We need enforcement of those laws. And we are thankful for those who put themselves in harms way to protect and serve and keep the peace.

Acts 21:33 – 33 Then the commander approached, took him into custody, and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He asked who he was and what he had done.

Now, wait a minute! The guy being beaten without mercy, that’s the guy you arrest? While we appreciate and are indebted to the justice system around us, at the same time we can’t expect any worldly order to always do what is fair and right. This is important for us to keep in mind right now as we watch these court cases. The god of this world is our adversary and he perverts justice. In the end, he’s going to be cast into the Lake of Fire. But, for now, we don’t hang our hopes on the decision of 5 SCOTUS members or some appeals court. If courts rule in our favor, great, but either way we don’t rejoice in the words of men, but in the promises of God, knowing that one day we will be ruling and reigning with Him in His perfect Kingdom.

Now before we move on, notice this: Paul was bound with 2 chains. This is a fulfillment of Agabus’ prophecy, delivered in Caesarea up in verse 11. It was a literal fulfillment. Agabus said he would be bound and then he was bound. We have no reason to expect end times prophecies to be fulfilled in some allegorical way. A careful critic would say, “Ah, but we’ve got you! Agabus said the Jews will bind Paul and deliver him to the Gentiles!” Our answer is that it was their actions which led to his binding and their charges against him in the Gentile court of law would keep him bound for years. So, what does that tell us? It tells us, first, that Biblical prophecy is a literal business. Paul wasn’t emotionally bound or financially bound. He was shackled. But, as the fulfillment unfolded, there were elements that came into play that weren’t specifically outlined by the prophet.

So, when we look at end times prophecies, there are gaps in our understanding. The Antichrist is one example. We don’t know who he is. And there are a lot of opinions about his heritage. How can that be when there are so many prophecies about him? Well, God gives us an outline of future events, but there are gaps in coverage. We can’t exactly see how every element is going to fit together. And that’s ok. Gaps don’t indicate prophecy isn’t to be taken literally. Bible prophecy, when fulfilled in the Bible, always happens literally and actually.

Acts 21:34 – 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing and some another. Since he was not able to get reliable information because of the uproar, he ordered him to be taken into the barracks.

Unsaved people really are held captive by the devil to do his will. Look at what we’re seeing here. We had a wild, concentrated effort to murder a man. Countless numbers of these people immediately involved themselves in that effort. And then, when asked what was going on, they didn’t even know what was happening. There is a satanic conspiracy to resist God and His people and His work on the earth. And many unbelievers around us have no idea that they are part of the injustice. They think they’re just living their lives, doing no harm to anyone, but it isn’t true. This is one reason why it does no good to become angry or spiteful toward the unbelieving world. We can have a righteous anger or frustration at injustice, but it does no good to let unbelievers around you know that you’re enemies with them. The truth is, you’re not their enemy. You’re the first responder sent by God into the war zone of Hanford or Lemoore to go and save those people from the clutches of Satan.

Every now and then a movie will be made that focuses or touches on the topic of child soldiers in African wars. And we see how horrifying and wrong that is and we recognize that those poor children have been taken advantage of. They need to be saved out of that life, not just cut down where they stand. We want to develop the same softness toward unbelievers around us.

Now, I will ask this question: When it comes to verse 34, where are the Christians? So far there has been no one there to defend Paul, or to try to tell the commander what’s really going on. No prayer vigils for him. If we see injustice and can stand for what’s right, we are called to do so, in love. It’s true that the situation was chaotic, but Paul seems to be completely alone, without support. If we see a brother in need, stand in support. Offer assistance. Cross the line to be by their side.

Acts 21:35-36 – 35 When Paul got to the steps, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mass of people followed, yelling, “Get rid of him!”

We’ve seen providence working its way through this scene, but we also see the devil fighting back. He’s rallying his forces to get hold of Paul again. The shock and awe of hundreds of Roman soldiers had completely worn off and the mob turns violent again, despite the fact that they are unarmed civilians. Look at what the devil does to people. If a full blown assault breaks out against these soldiers, the only result is going to be widespread bloodshed. But the devil doesn’t care.

Acts 21:37a – 37 As he was about to be brought into the barracks, Paul said to the commander, “Am I allowed to say something to you?”

In contrast to the satanic hatred on display, we’re about to see some of Paul’s famous love. For now, we notice a couple things that were happening during this drama of injustice. First, Paul kept his spiritual wits about him. I can’t imagine the pain he was feeling, but, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he stayed in control and stayed in a position of trust in the Lord. Second, even though he’s at a physical breaking point and is being unfairly treated by this government official, Paul speaks graciously and respectfully.

We do not have to agree with ungodly leaders. But we are called to treat them with grace and respect. That protocol is the same for Commander Lysius or High Priest Caiaphas or Caesar Nero or Governor Newsom. Being wronged doesn’t void our Christian code of conduct or make the fruit of the Spirit inapplicable. “But the bad people are so bad!” I know. It’s true. But they’re also dearly loved by God, whose desire is to save them just as much as it was to save us. Now, Paul had previously been a man completely consumed by hate. Hate for outsiders. Hate for dissenters. Hate for those who didn’t go his way. How did he overcome that propensity for hatred? It was the transforming work of God in his heart. He explained in Romans 5 that God poured out love into his heart through the Holy Spirit and that love was the source of his endurance, his character, his hope. It was Godly love that changed him from a killer to a man of compassion. Always ready to lay down his rights and his life. Always ready to face the mob. Always ready to offer all upon heaven’s altar. And he did so with grace toward those who were wronging him, even those who were killing him. That same love is shed abroad in our hearts by the same Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Acts 21:37b-38 – He replied, “You know how to speak Greek? 38 Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt some time ago and led four thousand men of the Assassins into the wilderness?”

Throughout the proceedings here we notice that the unbelieving world, represented by the commander, keeps making assumptions about Paul. And that’s going to often be our experience, too. They assumed he was the guilty one. They assumed he was some uneducated rabble-rouser. None of it was true, but they assumed it all the same and it changed the way they acted toward Paul. People are going to assume things about you as a Christian today. They’re often going to be unfair, negative things. Let’s surprise them with grace and compassion.

Now, Josephus records that there had been this Egyptian Jew who led a revolt in Jerusalem and, at one point, took a bunch of his followers out onto the Mount of Olives and said, “I’m going to cause the walls of the city to crumble!” At which point, Felix sent in soldiers and wiped them out. But the Egyptian escaped. This commander thought Paul was that guy.

The comparison is interesting, though. Because we often do think of ourselves as part of a revolution. But, unlike this other terrorist, our revolution is not based on division, brutality, or force. We’re not dagger-carriers. We carry good news. Our revolution is based off of truth, kindness and selflessness. Our mission isn’t to tear down, but to build up. Let’s remember our marching orders.

Acts 21:39 – 39 Paul said, “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of an important city. Now I ask you, let me speak to the people.”

Paul isn’t interested in preaching to the soldiers, yet. He’ll get there, but for now we see him prioritizing. And we see him playing an advantage card, not to toot his own horn or to make himself seem important. Simply as a way to get in front of this audience before it’s too late and they disperse. The soldiers will still be in the barracks an hour from now. This crowd of Jewish pilgrims? He’s got one shot.

So, as opposition comes hard against Paul we see him enduring, we see him loving, we see him keeping his wits about himself, but we also see something else. One commentator calls it “daring.” Paul was daring. His main goal wasn’t to just get through the situation or even to win his own freedom. His main goal was to win souls for heaven. And, toward that end, he actually put off his own safety in hopes that some might be saved. Warren Wiersbe has a set of commentaries called the “Be” series. Each volume distills a book of the Bible into an imperative for us to apply. Like, “Be confident” (for Hebrews), or “Be hopeful” (for 1 Peter). For Acts 13-28 the book is “Be daring.” Paul was heroic in his willingness to take leaps of faith. We want God to give us faith like that.

Acts 21:40 – 40 After he had given permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned with his hand to the people. When there was a great hush, he addressed them in Aramaic:

Your translation may say “Hebrew” there at the end. Scholars say that the text says, “he addressed them in the Hebrew dialect,” which would’ve been Aramaic at the time.

We see one more does of providence here. God gave Paul inexplicable favor with the commander and then supernaturally drew the attention of a multitude onto one man. A great hush fell over the crowd. Even during injustice and persecution God was fighting on behalf of His servant. Sudden deliverance wasn’t going to arrive, sudden revival wasn’t going to break out. But God had not failed. And Paul was not disheartened. The work continued.

The world may come against us, blame us, misunderstand us, accuse us of things that aren’t true, assume the worst of us. That’s to be expected. And it’s ok, because we can show them the truth by our love and our grace. And, whether we “win” in court or not, we can be sure that God is still on our side, He’s still on the move and He’s still sending us out in power to do what we can to rescue those trapped by the devil. One day, all injustices will be righted. Until then, we proceed as we always do, in rain or shine.

The Prince’s Died (Psalm 146)

When Nick Fury wanted to know how Loki used the Tesseract to turn “two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys,” Captain America perked up.

Having been frozen for 70 years, Cap (that’s what we call him) was understandably ignorant of most of the pop culture references being made by his fellow Avengers.

When Fury mentioned “flying monkeys,” Thor said, “Monkeys? I do not understand.”

An excited Captain America blurted out, “I do! I understood that reference.”

In another of the films we see the page of a notebook on which Steve Rogers keeps a to-do list of pop culture he needs to get caught-up on. Things like disco, and both Star Trek and Star Wars.

I’m guessing almost everyone here ‘gets’ the flying monkeys as a reference to The Wizard of Oz. That’s quite an achievement for a book published in 1900, and made into a feature film in 1939.

Here are a few more references from Oz still in common use today:

“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
“Lions and tigers and bears, O my!”
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
“There’s no place like home.”

The “We’re not in Kansas anymore” line is so iconic that it was #4 on a list of the top 100 movie quotes of all time that was compiled in 2005 by the American Film Institute.

One critic noted, “The list of television series that haven’t borrowed the line might be shorter than the list of those that have.”

When you use an iconic pop culture reference, everyone familiar with it ‘gets’ it.

Something like that is going on in Psalm 146. To really ‘get’ Psalm 146, we need to remember something about Second Temple Hebrew culture. It is this:

The Old Testament prophets had more to say about the coming Kingdom of God on earth than anything else.

Psalm 146 describes, among other things, a time during which there will be no poverty, and no physical handicaps, e.g., blindness.

These are iconic phrases. A Jew would recognize these as referring to conditions that will prevail on earth in the future Kingdom.

We need to read Psalm 146 looking ahead to the Kingdom. Only then will it comfort us in the present, rather than confuse us.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 The Coming Kingdom Provokes Praise, and #2 The Coming Kingdom Provides Perspective.

#1 – The Coming Kingdom Provokes Praise (v1-2)

Pop culture references only work when we share a common background.

I find that out a lot when I share a sermon title, or a reference in the study, that no one gets.

Before we get to iconic, Kingdom phrases, the psalmist – and we don’t know who he is – sets the scene. It’s praise.

Psa 146:1  Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
Psa 146:2  While I live I will praise the LORD; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

The five psalms that conclude this great hymnbook are known as the Hallelujah Psalms. They begin with “Praise the LORD” and end with “Praise the LORD,” which is, of course, “Hallelujah.”

“Halel” means praise, or tell someone that they are very great.
The “u” means all of you!
“Jah” most Bibles translate as “LORD” with four capital letters.

The psalmist mentions the “soul.” He meant to elevate our thinking to living for eternity. Our bodies will die, and corrupt in the grave (or worse). But our soul will go on.

In verse two, the psalmist says he will praise the LORD both “while I live,” and “while I have my being.”

“While I live” sounds like his life on the earth.
“While I have my being” sounds like after life on the earth ends, on into eternity.

Now and forever, he would praise the LORD.
Praise would permeate his life.

I’ve noticed that at either end of the spiritual spectrum, praise can cease:

In times of blessing, we drift from the Lord, not sensing our need.
In times of buffeting, we find it hard to praise Him, since we sort of blame Him.

We have a couple of praise choruses that nail this:

“Blessed Be Your Name.” Every blessing You pour out, I’ll turn back to praise; When the darkness closes in, Lord still I will say, Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
“Trust in You.” When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move, When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through. When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You, I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!

“Hallelujah” means all of me telling the LORD He is very great; and that implies doing it all the time.

Ever play charades? Think of your daily life – language and body language – as a kind of worthy charade, in which people can easily guess that you are a believer whose life is dedicated to all-the-time Praising the LORD.

#2 – The Coming Kingdom Provides Perspective (v3-10)

Dr. J. Vernon McGee said of the prophets, “It was their theme song. They sound like a stuck record, saying over and over that the King is coming, the Kingdom is coming, and great blessings will be on this earth.”

The prophets made much of the coming King and Kingdom.
John the Baptist announced the King was on scene.
Jesus offered the Kingdom.
The disciples expected Jesus to establish the Kingdom. It was a constant theme in their thinking, and in their questioning the Lord.

When John and Jesus talked about the Kingdom, the Jews knew exactly what they meant, with little explanation.

The Kingdom isn’t an allegory for something else. We mean a literal reign of Jesus over the current earth, sitting on David’s throne in Jerusalem.

Looking back, we must acknowledge that the prophecies of the Bible that have been fulfilled were done so literally.
Looking forward, we must acknowledge that the prophecies of the Bible that have yet to be fulfilled will be done so literally.

We more commonly call it the Millennial Kingdom, or the Millennium. In the Revelation, in chapter twenty, we’re told no less than six times that the Kingdom will last one thousand years. In Latin, “thousand” is millennium.

Just to be clear: There will be a visible Second Coming of Jesus to the earth to establish and reign over the Kingdom for a millennium.

For the remainder of the psalm, the psalmist assumes a future perspective as he lives in the present.

(Or should we say, “the palmist?).

Psa 146:3  Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.

“Princes” are anyone in a position of authority.
“Son of man” indicates the princes are merely men.

This doesn’t mean leaders are to be disregarded as unimportant. It serves as a reminder to not lose sight of the future King of kings. For a Jew, it meant keeping Messianic hope alive.

Our hope is a little different. The Jews rejected Jesus, and therefore rejected His offer to right then and there establish the Kingdom. Jesus ascended into Heaven, promising to return and establish the Kingdom.

The time in between Jesus’ ascension and Second Coming – our time – is the Church Age. We have our own iconic phrases, e.g., “In the world you will have tribulation,” and, “Our light affliction is but for a moment.”

Our hope is to be resurrected or raptured; and that event is imminent.

This is a good word for us, having just come through an election. Rather than apply it for you, I’ll just ask this: Mediate on the words, “Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.” Let the Holy Spirit use them to bring you peace in these weird, turbulent times.

Psa 146:4  His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish.

Leaders have their plans. Some of them are good, beneficial, or are at least they are meant to be. FDR’s New Deal; JFK’s New Frontier; LBJ’s Great Society… All meant for good.

Hitler’s Final Solution was a plan, too; a hideous, satanic plan.

Those leaders have perished. Their plans perished with them. MAGA seems on the brink of perishing, giving way to Build Back Better. It, too, will perish.

The LORD’s plan cannot fail. By His providence, it will play-out just as prophesied from Genesis through the Revelation. He came; He is coming.

Psa 146:5  Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the LORD his God,

“Jacob” means the Jews; the nation of Israel. The story God tells throughout the Bible centers around the nation He established through Abraham, from which the Messiah would come to save and bless the world.

God – the almighty God; YHWH; Jehovah. He is the only One who can save and sanctify and glorify you. He must therefore become “the LORD [your] God.”

Psa 146:6  Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever,

“Keeps truth forever” can be translated, is faithful forever. God created the universe, and put man in a beautiful Garden paradise. Adam and Eve ruined it. But God promised, immediately, to fix it. He has revealed how He will do that in the Bible. He’s been faithful up til now; He will be faithful to the end.

The Second Coming of Jesus ends the seven-year Great Tribulation. At His coming, there will be human survivors on the earth. A judgment will take place. Nonbelievers souls will be consigned to Hades. Believers will remain on the earth, in their human bodies, to live in and populate the Kingdom.

The topics in verses seven, eight, and nine would be understood as referring to the coming Kingdom.

No Israelite would confuse them for conditions that could exist unless and until the Messiah had come.

Once we recognize these references are from the future Kingdom, we won’t be confused about why there are still blind people; or why there is poverty.

Remember: The current Church Age has its own characteristics.

Psa 146:7  Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The LORD gives freedom to the prisoners.

“Justice” will be characteristic of the Millennium. Isaiah said, “But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist” (11:14-15).
Poverty will be abolished. Jeremiah said, “Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, Streaming to the goodness of the LORD For wheat and new wine and oil, For the young of the flock and the herd; Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden, And they shall sorrow no more at all” (31:12).
Captives will be released: Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound…”

Psa 146:8  The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous.

Isaiah said: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert” (35:5-6). There will be no disabilities; all will be healed.

Doing what is right will permeate global society. John Walvoord summarized this, saying, “Taken as a whole, the social and economic conditions of the Millennium indicate a Golden Age in which the dreams of social reformists through the centuries will be realized, not through human effort but by the immediate presence and power of God and the righteous government of Jesus Christ.”

There is something here for your devotional life. Alexander Maclaren wrote, “All these classes of afflicted persons are meant to be regarded literally, but all may have a wider meaning and be intended to hint at spiritual bondage, blindness, and abjectness.”

In the Millennium, God will open blind eyes – physically. He’s not doing that now, not always. But we extrapolate from this future characteristic that God can heal another kind of blindness. He can open the eyes of the spiritually blind – freeing their will to receive Jesus.

Next the psalmist said, “But the way of the wicked He turns upside down” (v9). If it’s the Kingdom, where do “the wicked” come from?

Think of all the people who will be born to Tribulation survivors over a thousand years. I’m too dumb to do the math. But I do remember the math problem in which you double pennies everyday and after 31 days it amounts to over $10mil.

ANYWAY… Multitudes of the people born in the Millennium will reject Jesus as Savior. It’s incredible. Nevertheless, we read in the Revelation,

Rev 20:7  Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison
Rev 20:8  and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.
Rev 20:9  They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.
Rev 20:10  The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Rev 20:11  Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.
Rev 20:12  And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
Rev 20:13  The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.
Rev 20:14  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Rev 20:15  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

Perfect conditions on the earth… Utopia, as it were… Can reform, but not transform, the sinner.

Psa 146:10  The LORD shall reign forever – Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!

Back to the present, but with a Kingdom perspective. The coming reign of the God of Jacob, of Zion, is assured. Not just for a thousand years, but “To infinity, and beyond.”

After the Millennium comes eternity. The apostle John wrote, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:1-2).

Jesus promised you, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

To which we with Hallelujah’s! respond, “There’s no place like home.”

Prophecy Update #637 – I’m Sorry, Dave. I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That.

These are exciting times for believers in Christ who are interested in Bible prophecy. Oddly, many believers are ignoring prophecy, even ridiculing those who think it is relevant to current events.

Since prophecy accounts for 30% of the Bible, it ought to be a regular focus in teaching. Additionally, we reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to suggest news, or trends, that seem to be predicted by the many yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies in the Bible.

We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news. It helps not to be accused of sensationalism – sadly, something all too common among some who talk about the End Times.

We’re not saying the things we report are the fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect from taking the Bible literally.

There is a fantastic prophecy that, during the Great Tribulation, a person called “the false prophet” will construct an “image” of the world leader known as the Beast or the antichrist that will seemingly or actually come to life. It reads like this:

Rev 13:14  And he deceives those who dwell on the earth – by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast…
Rev 13:15  He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.

It sounds a great deal like Artificial Intelligence – AI. Thus you’d expect current events to be trending towards AI.

NewsTrust.org posted a story titled, Web Summit conference hears plans by Danish architecture firm BIG and Chinese tech company Terminus to build an AI-run city in Chongqing.

Excerpts:

From robots delivering coffee to office chairs rearranging themselves after a meeting, a smart city project in China aims to put artificial intelligence in charge, its creators told a conference this week.

The project, named Cloud Valley, plans to use sensors and wifi-connected devices to gather data on everything from weather and pollution to people’s eating habits to automatically meet residents’ needs.

“It’s almost coming back to this idea of living in a village where, when you show up, even though it’s the first time you’re there, the bar tender knows your favorite drink,” said BIG founding partner Bjarke Ingels.

“When our environment becomes sensing and sentient… we can really open up that kind of seamlessness because the AI can recognize people coming. So it can open the door, so they don’t have to look for their key cards.”

Cities around the world are racing to embrace technology in a bid to improve urban life by collecting data to address problems like traffic jams and crime.
More than 500 smart cities are being built across China, according to the government, to spur growth amidst a global economic downturn.

Launched in April, the Cloud Valley project envisions a city of about 13 million square feet – equal to some 200 football fields – where technology allows people to live more comfortably by anticipating their needs.

“As sunlight hits the houses, bedroom windows adjust their opacity to allow the natural light to wake sleepy residents,” Terminus said on its website, which also highlights tranquil green spaces like rooftop gardens.

“Once the light has filled the room, an AI virtual housekeeper named Titan [Thanos?] selects your breakfast, matches your outfit with the weather, and presents a full schedule of your day.”

The city, which includes offices, homes, public spaces and self-driving cars that move around under the ever watchful eye of AI, is due for completion in about three years, according to Terminus.

https://news.trust.org/item/20201203131328-4n7on/

A “sentient,” AI city. Hundreds of them. What could go wrong?

I’m simply pointing out that AI like this was predicted over 2000 years ago by John in the Revelation.

Then, too, we’re seeing the world’s leaders calling for The Great Reset – a move towards a global economy and, eventually, a global government. Also predicted by John.

Then, too, we’re seeing technology that allows us to conduct business using some sort of connection to our hand or forehead. Also predicted by John.

I read this quote: “The future of America depends on one thing – the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a humble nation to receive it, to repent of sin and live lives that love and honor God!”

The apostle Paul noted that the god of this age has blinded the eyes of nonbelievers. They need the light of the Gospel. That needs to be priority one with us.

The church’s mission never changes: Go, and as you are going, make disciples.

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will definitely happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will return in the clouds. He will raise the dead in Christ. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies.

We will all join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

With Friends Like These… (Acts 21:17-30)

In 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron made a diplomatic blunder on a visit to China. He was there, hoping to develop commercial activity between China and the UK. But, there was a snag: When he met with Chinese officials, he had a poppy pinned to his lapel. In November the poppy is used to honor the war dead in Britain. For the Chinese it’s not a welcome symbol, especially when being worn by an Englishman. For them, the poppy is a reminder of the Opium wars, fought between China and England in the 19th century, both of which China lost. Cameron and his team resisted requests to take off the flower. And, in the end, they came away with deals that could be described as “modest” at best, but certainly disappointing.

In our passage tonight we’ll see a significant diplomatic blunder that ends much worse than David Cameron’s. Paul will be sent into the Temple to put on a show for the Jewish believers and instead of everyone clasping hands and singing Kumbaya My Lord, a violent riot breaks out.

As we read it’s clear that mistakes were made. But who made them? Was Paul wrong to participate in the effort? How might the church have dealt with the brewing controversy? And how do we dwell together in unity when we come from such different backgrounds and traditions and live during such a time of unrest and agitation?

As we start in on the text, after a long journey through the Empire, Paul has arrived in Jerusalem.

Acts 21:17 – 17 When we arrived, the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem welcomed us warmly.

What a great thing to see this warm embrace from the Christians there. He was welcomed as a brothers, not a celebrity.

Paul had been warned again and again that suffering and imprisonment were waiting for him in Jerusalem, but as he finally entered the city, he didn’t do so looking over his shoulder in fear. He felt compelled by the Spirit to come. So, he wasn’t freaking out, bracing for impact. But that doesn’t mean it was easy, either. Remember – he had said to his friends who were trying to convince him not to go, “Why are you breaking my heart?” I’m sure by this point Paul was pretty convinced that his race was going to end in martyrdom. So, with the Lord as his strength, he pressed forward.

Matthew Henry reminds us of how Paul had strengthened other Christians out in on the field “by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’” We shouldn’t think it strange that we are faced with trouble in this life. Rather, we should expect and endure and remember that one day we, too, will cross the borders into the New Jerusalem, to be forever in glory with our Lord.

Acts 21:18 – 18 The following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.

It seems none of the 12 were in town when all this happened. Paul’s habit when he came to Jerusalem or back to his home church in Antioch was to give a report of all that had happened on his missionary journeys. He also has his gang of 8 with him – guys like Luke and Timothy and representatives from the Gentile churches who had all pooled money together to give as a gift to the famine-starved Christians in Judea.

On the one hand, it wouldn’t have been unusual that the elders were all assembled here. But we’re going to see that they had an agenda. Sadly, they’re going to behave in a way that feels a lot more like the Sanhedrin than the Upper Room.

Usually we try hard not to criticize the decisions that believers make in Scripture, that is when it’s not overtly sinful or commented on in the Word. There have been lots of moments in Acts where commentators want to point fingers and lay blame, like when Paul and Barnabas got into their argument. This is another one of those areas.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find much that is redeeming about James’ and Company’s behavior here. Their plan is going to be a complete failure. Their methods are political, not spiritual. So, while we want to take a gracious approach, it seems they made quite a mistake in this scene.

Acts 21:19 – 19 After greeting them, he reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

Paul gave a very thorough account of everything that had happened. Astonishing things. World-changing things. There would’ve been many more things reported than are written down for us by Luke. And we notice the careful choice of words: “what God had done among the Gentiles.” It wasn’t that Paul was the perfect minister or that their methods were the perfect methods. It was God working through them to accomplish His purposes. If Acts teaches us anything, it should be that God has opinions and He has plans for what He’s doing today and in whatever city we find ourselves in. It’s not our job to decide what we think Hanford needs or what method of ministry is “most effective.” Our job is to discern the will of God and make ourselves available to it. Think of the difference between Abel’s offering and Cain’s. Cain’s offering was his idea. And I’m sure it was lovely from the human perspective. Full of care and effort. But it wasn’t what God wanted and so He wouldn’t accept it. The question we should ask is not “What do I want to do for God,” but, “What does God want to do through me?”

Acts 21:20 – 20 When they heard it, they glorified God and said, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law.

James and the elders are not completely callous, but we see they start to tip their hand here. They glorified God after Paul’s report (how could you not after hearing those things?), but they then immediately pivot onto a subject they’ve clearly been discussing themselves. Have you been to a meeting like this? Maybe you or someone shares at length about some issue or initiative and then the people in charge say, “Great. But what we really want to talk about is…budget cuts.”

G. Campbell Morgan points out that there’s no recognition of the generous gift Paul and his friends brought with them at their own peril. In fact, they don’t even acknowledge the Gentiles standing there right before them. And that’s because they’ve become completely distracted by traditionalism and their own heritage. And what follows is a sad cave to legalism, bigotry and man-pleasing.

They begin by saying “Paul, we’ve got this problem…and there are just SO many people who agree with what we’re about to say.” Red flag. “And, all these people, they are all zealous for the Law.” The term they use is “zealots.” Now, there are a couple of issues here. First of all, since when did being a Mosaic Zealot become a good thing in the Church? And, second, this is a huge generalization. Obviously there were many Jewish Christians who were not hung up on the ceremonial Law the way many in Jerusalem were. Paul is an example. Barnabas. Aristarchus. Silas. But we see, from the beginning, James and the elders are drawing a line and, in fact, building a barrier between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. This is not a good thing. We know it’s not a good thing because an entire book of the Bible is written to Hebrew believers telling them to stop being Hebrew in their approach to God! But here we see that the leaders in Jerusalem have become partisan. Back in Acts 15, with the first Jerusalem Council they were able to resist the pull, but they’ve slipped and now they’re being dominated by this legalistic and sectarian mentality.

Acts 21:21 – 21 But they have been informed about you—that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to live according to our customs.

This is such a sad statement. First, they’re generalizing again “you teach ALL the Jews this stuff.” And they’re saying, “Everyone’s been gossiping about you.” But, even worse than that, what they were saying wasn’t true. Every Christian who knew Paul knew this isn’t what he taught. He was on record on these issues. Romans and Corinthians had already been written. Paul’s views on the law are clear in those letters. Of course the printing press wasn’t around yet, but we know that his letters had circulation. Peter references them. Also, it was public knowledge that Paul had Timothy circumcised in adulthood so that he wouldn’t offend Jews they were trying to evangelize. So, anyone who knew Paul, including James and these elders, knew these accusations were made up.

But, notice what they say there at the end: these are “our customs.” Each of us come into the Church with certain heritage, background, affiliations, but as a Christian, what you are is a Christian. You’re not a Jew first or an American first or a Libertarian first. You’re a Christian. Blood bought into the family of God, united with your brothers and sisters from every corner of the globe. If your customs divide you from others, then it is the custom that should be discarded, not the brother.

Because these Jerusalem Christians were poorly prioritizing their affiliations, it was causing a lot of tension when Paul came into town. So what should be done about it?

Acts 21:22-23a – 22 So what is to be done? They will certainly hear that you’ve come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you…

They’re about to unfold this plan, but notice here the way they’re going about it. “Paul, all the Jewish believers are freaked out because they’ve heard you’re anti-Jew.” First of all, it wasn’t true that everyone thought Paul was some anti-Law fanatic. Remember what we read in verse 17: The brothers and sisters received him warmly. They weren’t wringing their hands about Paul being there. The fact of the matter was there were Judaizers in their midst who wanted to tie Christianity down under the Law of Moses and Paul stood in their way. That group was just as mad as they had been back in Acts 15 while they were trying to keep Gentiles from entering into salvation! But, in response to the gossip, the church leaders say, “Paul, you’re going to have to prove yourself to these people.”

If it was so easy for people to hear news about Paul’s arrival and his activities, why didn’t James just spread the simple message that, “Hey, what you’re saying about Paul isn’t true.” What’s more Biblical? To tell people the truth or to put on a show hoping people will see that you want to please them? Because that’s the plan being laid out here. Here’s how they thought it would go:

Acts 21:23b-24 – We have four men who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law.

Then everyone will know. If it was so easy for word to spread, why not spread the truth? Why pretend? Why put on a show? There are a lot of problems in this plan. First, its goal is to seek the approval of man. Second, it sends the message that purification comes through ritual and sacrifice and everyone in the room knew that wasn’t true. Jesus had said, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Third, they asked Paul to pay the fees for 4 men. This would’ve been an expensive thing. Paul didn’t have any money. They’re putting this huge financial burden on him to pretend that he still believes in the ceremonial Law so that people who hate him won’t have to be rebuked and corrected for spreading lies and gossip about him.

Jack Arnold writes: “The leaders [in Jerusalem], fearing a division, accepted the philosophy of peace at any price.” God calls us to unity, but not at any price. These leaders were wrong to indulge gossip, to refuse to defend the Apostle and to use worldly methods of manipulation to try to appease legalists. They hadn’t needed to do all this nonsense back in Acts 15, when the church was threatened with division over the Law before. What happened then? Well, back then there were a few men who were courageous enough to stand up and say, “No” to legalism and bigotry and partisanship. That was needed again here in chapter 21, but this time there was no dissent.

Some commentators call this plan compromise, some call it prudence. They say that it would’ve been too difficult to expect lifelong Jews to abandon their heritage in the rites and ceremonies. Yet, we remember that Jesus Christ called the disciples to leave their nets. Leave their tax booth. Leave father and mother and follow Him. Do you still have a heritage once you become a Christian? Of course. But that background, those traditions are never to have their hands on the rudder of your life because you are a new creation in Christ. A citizen of a heavenly Kingdom. Speaking of us, Jesus said: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

Acts 21:25 – 25 With regard to the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter containing our decision that they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

If I had been in Paul’s position, this would’ve hurt. It assumes that he had not been teaching these things effectively out in those Gentile churches. That he hadn’t properly shown them how to Christian. And then think of what it would’ve felt like to be one of the Gentiles there in the meeting! “Yeah, I know not to be sexually immoral.”

Plus, we see a flaw in their logic. So a simple written note would be sufficient for all the Gentile world to know the truth, but they couldn’t handle spreading the truth through the Christian community in one city (Jerusalem)?

We also note a contrast between Paul’s sharing in verse 19 where he talked about what “God had done” and then James and the elders saying here in verse 25, “Here’s our decision.”

Acts 21:26 – 26 So the next day, Paul took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering would be made for each of them.

Why, oh why did Paul go along with this? Some say he was deep into sinful compromise. Some say he was simply trying to be all things to all men. I think that’s closer to the mark. We can’t be sure of what was going on in his head, but we know Paul to be a humble man. He was a man who was willing to lay down his life to reach people with the Gospel. He was a man ready to sacrifice his own liberty to do ministry. And, we know that he knew he was gong to be imprisoned in Jerusalem. I think it’s very possible that he was able to be at peace with their scheme, not because he agreed, but because the Lord had given him a certain amount of prophetic revelation about what was going to happen. Maybe he was thinking to himself, “So that’s how it’s going to happen.”

Acts 21:27-28 – 27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd, and seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. What’s more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”

So, the literal opposite of what they planned for happened. They had planned this grand gesture of legalism and it completely backfired. Not only had the Jerusalem elders put Paul in a bad position, they didn’t even help him in it. Where are they in this scene? They’re so worried about this supposed rift in the church, but they’re nowhere to be found. That’s a sad testimony.

A simple lesson here is that, when we try to apply human methods to ministry, the result will often be the opposite of what we wanted to the detriment of people. Whether it’s in fundraising or outreach or messaging, let God lead. We don’t need to worldly techniques. Worldly recipes don’t produce spiritual outcomes.

Acts 21:29 – 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.

This is a baseless assumption. But, note, not even the 4 guys finishing their vow vouch for Paul. When we give in to bias or prejudice or legalism in our minds or in the church the result is destructive. That’s what we’re seeing here. It goes both ways. In this case, Jerusalem was clearly dealing with an anti-Gentile bias. In much of history the church has been plagued by anti-semitism. Today our culture is obsessed with everyone grouping up and identifying who is “us” and who is not “us.” Don’t give in to that. It’s detrimental and destructive and, ultimately, deadly.

Acts 21:30 – 30 The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul, dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut.

John Phillips wrote, “What did James and the others think of themselves? We wonder… They apparently did nothing to secure (Paul’s) release, nothing to speak on his behalf, nothing to appeal to the Jews of Jerusalem to give Paul fair play. They sent no one to the Roman authorities to assure the commander of the garrison that Paul was innocent of the charges leveled against him.”

This is a sad chapter, not only for Paul but in the history of the Church in Jerusalem. What might we learn?

Well, if we find ourselves sin Paul’s position, we see from his example selflessness, humility and a willingness to lay down his rights. He knew he was where he was supposed to be because the Spirit had led him. To be sure, the situation was a painful one, but as usual he demonstrates that grace is the way. In uncertainty, in conflict, when being mistreated, respond with grace. That doesn’t mean we compromise with sin, but we can choose to humble ourselves and bear the fruits of patience and peace and grace, even when we’re not the ones in the wrong.

If we find ourselves in James’ position, we should learn from his example that sometimes our responsibility is to stand up for the truth, even if that makes us unpopular with our peers. We see the dangers of placing heritage over conviction. We see what happens when we cling too tightly to the approval of man or the traditions of man rather than the grace of God.

On a wider level we also learn two general but important things from this passage. First, we should takeaway the understanding that the ‘church’ is not co-equal with Scripture. For example, in Roman Catholicism, church tradition carries equal authority with Scripture. We see, in this case, the “church” decision wasn’t the right one. We are fallible, the Scripture is not.

But that leads to a second takeaway, as pointed out by H.A. Ironside, it is a comfort to see that even apostles made mistakes. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to offend one another. Hopefully it doesn’t lead to someone’s false imprisonment, but we are going to fall short at some point or another. Grace is the way forward. Clinging to what has been revealed in the Scriptures is the way forward. So let’s move forward, not in fear, not in traditionalism, not trying to win the approval of man, but forward in grace, as people of the Word, doing what is necessary to follow God and be used for His purposes.

In gods They Trust (Psalm 115)

In 1859, before a crowd of 25,000 people, Charles Blondin stepped out onto a tightrope strung across Niagara Falls. He was one of history’s most famous ropedancers and that day in June was a master performance. Not only did he walk the rope, he also ran on it, sat on it, lay down on it, and somersaulted along it. He carried out an old-timey camera on his back 200 feet over the span and snapped a picture of the crowd. He even took out a small stove so he could cook an omelet, lowering it to passengers on the famous Maid Of The Mist boat below.

If we saw David Copperfield or David Blaine doing it today, we’d assume it was some sort of camera trick. But, Charles Blondin was the real deal. You can look at photographs of him performing some of these feats, including carrying his manager Harry Colcord on his back from one side to another.

It’s reported that, on one occasion, after carrying Harry across the rope, Blondin “turned to a man in the crowd and asked him, ‘Do you think I could do that with you?’ ‘Of course,’ said the man. ‘I just saw you do it.’ ‘Well then,’ said Blondin, ‘Hop on and I’ll carry you across.’ ‘Not on your life,’ said the bystander.”

Psalm 115 is a song about trust. It compares the gods of this world to the God of heaven and confidently declares that Jehovah is not only trustworthy, but generous and caring and giving attention to you. Though many scholars feel that the song was written during a time of national distress, by the time the music ends, any singer would have their hearts filled to the brim with joy and confidence and excitement about what God was up to and what was still to come – that God was going to continue His gracious, extravagant work in their midst.

But the Psalm gives us this image: While God’s people sing of His greatness, outside there’s a crowd of unbelievers mocking God and His people. After all, how could an invisible God do anything?

How do we respond to a world that ridicules faith in the unseen? More importantly, how can we hang the weight of our lives, full of very real difficulties and obstacles on a God we cannot see? Psalm 115 not only gives us assurance, but sends us on our way with it rejoicing, so that the phrase ‘In God we trust’ isn’t just some tired slogan, but something we apply to the steps of our lives.

We begin in verse 1.

Psalm 115:1 – 1 Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory because of your faithful love, because of your truth.

This song includes request for deliverance, excitement about God’s blessing in our lives and anticipation of our future eternity in heaven, but along the way we’re never to lose sight of the fact that it all comes from the Lord. He is the fount of all good. There’s nothing in us that merits what God graciously gives. It is He Who is Sovereign, it is He who deserves all glory.

We notice that they repeat that phase, “not to us.” Have you ever had someone say, “Thank you,” then when you say, “Oh, don’t mention it,” they stop you and look you in the eye and say, “No…thank you.” There’s a sincerity in this opening line. The singers truly want all glory to go to God. When a person gets saved, God does a work of conforming Christians to be like Jesus Christ, but we admit that there’s still a part of us that wants glory for ourselves. There’s a fundamental change that needs to happen in our minds. In fact, humans have been so ruined by sin that we need a new mind given to us – the mind of Christ. Right from the beginning of this moment of worship, the singers jettison any desire for glory and instead offer their hearts to the Lord alone.

The opening of the song also reminds us of God’s love and truth. These are not only aspects of who God is, they are demonstrations of His incredible generosity. It is by God’s mercy, His faithful love, that we are not consumed. It is by His revealed truth that we are set free from bondage to sin.

Some of you are contemplating retirement and what you’ll “do” once you’ve clocked out for the last time. We can’t fathom all the things God could be doing with His ‘time’ and power. What has He decided to do? He has decided to be God with us.

Psalm 115:2 – 2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”

Sometimes the world asks this question as a taunt and an insult. Sometimes it asks in anger and frustration, like when people say, “If God exists, why is there suffering?”

From our perspective there are two ways to think about verse 2. One is that it’s a prayer to God, asking Him to make Himself known in the world. In Acts 4 the disciples pray that God would do great and dramatic things in their midst so that the world would know that Jesus is Messiah. But we can also see verse 2 as a rhetorical question. Any objective observer has to admit there is a God outside our universe. One who designs. One who intervenes. One who revealed Himself when He came in human flesh. “[God’s] invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made.” We can see the miraculous work of providence in every generation and every place throughout history.

Here is the simple answer to the question, though:

Psalm 115:3 – 3 Our God is in heaven and does whatever he pleases.

There is a sureness in this declaration. God is not just some sort of force. He’s a Person and He is in charge. No one can outmaneuver Him. No one can overthrow Him. No one can hide from Him. No one can lay a hand on Him or remove Him from His throne. He does whatever He pleases.

What does He please to do? Again, we consider all that God could be doing right now and then examine what He says brings Him pleasure. The Bible says it pleases God to interact with us. It pleases Him to deal with the problem of sin. It pleases Him to watch sinners repent. It pleases Him to adorn His people with salvation. It pleases Him to be with you. It pleases God to hold every atom of the cosmos together by His power, to raise up kingdoms and put down kingdoms, to change times and seasons in order to accomplish His unstoppable plan of grace in our lives and in this world. While the world mocks and ignores, this is what God does.

So now, let’s look for a moment at their gods.

Psalm 115:4-7 – 4 Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. 5 They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. 6 They have ears but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. 7 They have hands but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk. They cannot make a sound with their throats.

Modern man may see himself as much more sophisticated than these ancient pagans who bowed down to statues of silver and gold, but the gods they worship today are just as powerless. Martin Lloyd-Jones wrote:

“A man’s god is that for which he lives, for which he is prepared to give his time, his energy, his money, that which stimulates him and rouses him, excites, and enthuses him.”

Today, the gods of man are often possessions or systems that make promises of security or a better world, yet they are just as powerless as a statue made out silver that tarnishes or gold that melts.

In 2013, the US government spent $2billion to build healthcare.gov, a website that promised a healthier future for anyone and everyone in America. Its performance at launch was so abysmal that only six people in the entire country were able to sign up on the first day. As a political idol, it was just like what’s being described in these verses. If your god can be stolen or conquered or crash or voted out of power, then what sort of god is that?

We can contrast the gods of this world with the God of the Bible through each point in these verses. Our God was not fashioned out of materials mined from the earth. He made creation from nothing. Our God does speak. He speaks life into existence. He speaks commands to His people. He speaks kindness to the undeserving. Our God sees everything. His eyes roam to and fro, with nothing hidden from His gaze. We’re told He never takes His eyes off of us at any moment. Our God also hears. He hears our prayers and our praises. He’s listening for us, even for our groanings. He hears cries for help and calls for justice. Hearing the cries of the needy, He brings comfort. Our God even smells! Our praises rise like incense to Him, bringing Him pleasure and the smoke of His wrath billows from His nostrils. His hand is mighty to save and is placed in loving care on each one of His people. His hands are open to receive us. With His feet He walks with us, lighting our way along the path. With His voice He comforts and supports, He roars in victory and with it He thunders His decrees. He speaks and it is done.

Psalm 115:8 – 8 Those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them.

Ultimately, those who serve some other god end up the same: Tarnished, vulnerable, dead and wasted. If you’re not a Christian you’re headed for this same end. Looking back, it’s easy to say there’s no difference between Ra and Baal, Zeus and Ganesh. But the truth is, there’s no difference between them and any modern system that you’re trying to hang the weight of your life upon, not when it comes to your eternity. No difference between Vishnu and what men blasphemously call the almighty dollar. If your God is not outside time and space, you’ve got a real problem. Because this life will soon be over and you are going to stand before your Creator and be judged.

Psalm 115:9-11 – 9 Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and shield. 10 House of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and shield. 11 You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and shield.

James Montgomery Boice writes:

“If God tells us something once we should listen very carefully, because He is God. If He says something twice we should pay the most strict attention. How then if He repeats something three times? In that case, we should drop everything else we are doing, give our full attention to, study, ponder, memorize, meditate on and joyfully obey what God has said.”

Trust the Lord! In the Bible, to trust means that we are to boldly, confidently make God our refuge. To hang the weight of our lives on Him as Protector and Provider. To rely on His guidance for our courses and choices.

In Israel there were different levels of separation among God’s people that we see delineated here. You have the nation, the priests and then ‘God-fearers’ who weren’t ethnic Jews but had joined in with their assembly. And, under the law, there were distinct rules and privileges for each group.

Now, Jesus Christ has brought us into a new covenant. All those walls of separation and distinction have been broken down. Now we are, altogether, a family, a single generation of royal priests. It doesn’t matter if you work behind a pulpit or a pipe fitter. All have been unified in grace and purpose. Applying these verses, we are reminded that God is not simply to be acknowledged, but He is to be trusted. That He is the help we need for our nation, for our ministry, for our personal lives. And not only is He our help, He is our shield. In battle, it is the shield that sustains the blows, guarding the one behind it. Instead of you taking the impact from the sword or arrow, the shield does.

In How To Train Your Dragon, one of the Viking warriors is training young recruits in how to defend themselves against the attacks of their fire-breathing foes. He says, “Your most important piece of equipment is your shield. If you must make a choice between a sword or a shield, take the shield.”

With God as our help and shield, we don’t need to pay attention to the noise of the world. Whether it is mocking or threatening, we can persevere in confidence because our God is with us. And, as we saw in our study of Psalm 138, we need not be afraid of any foe, whether earthly or supernatural, because God is with us and for us and shields us with His limitless love and strength.

Psalm 115:12-13 – 12 The Lord remembers us and will bless us. He will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron; 13 he will bless those who fear the Lord— small and great alike.

God had given the nation of Israel covenant promises for physical blessings. He will not cancel out those promises. But to us different promises are made. When God speaks to us about the blessings He intends for our lives as Christians in the Church age, they aren’t for physical health and wealth. Rather, the promises are spiritual and eternal in nature. We learn in the New Testament that God blesses His people with spiritual growth and the development of spiritual fruit by which we bless others and build up the Church. We’re told that God’s promises to bless us with wisdom and increased faith and expanding joy and a greater capacity to serve others and endure hardship and bring honor to God. We also find that God’s blessings for us include a future plan for us to inherit the Kingdom, to see God, and receive heavenly rewards once this life comes to an end.

God’s heart has not changed. As He remembers Israel, He remembers us. Jesus promised He would never leave us or forsake us. Instead, He busies Himself in a constant effort to accomplish His unbreakable promises. And those promises will not only be kept to a certain few who seem significant or important from our way of thinking, they will be kept to all, both small and great alike.

Psalm 115:14-15 – 14 May the Lord add to your numbers, both yours and your children’s. 15 May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Scholars tell us that the language used here indicates that God heaps blessings on His people. Piles of them. The Lord isn’t stingy or withholding. He’s extravagant in His gifts and kindness.

There’s an important contrast here: The Israelites were all too familiar with the gods of Canaan which demanded people burn their own children in sacrifice. The same thing happens so often today. People sacrificing children on the altar of convenience or career. But then we see the God of the Bible, who loves you and your children. Who invites your whole family to be brought together in a life of hopeful faith, filled with spiritual blessings. A God who lavishes love on a thousand generations. He’s not some sort of God who is only effective at harvest time or in certain geographical locations. He’s not only effective for four years at a time. He is always powerful, always King, always working.

Psalm 115:16 – 16 The heavens are the Lord’s, but the earth he has given to the human race.

As we trust God and go His way, He then trusts us to steward the world. He has given it to us as a gift that we might enjoy it and live in it and use it, but along with that we have a responsibility to tend it as God would. He has shared dominion with us, because He is generous. We should approach our relationship to the physical world in a Godly way, which means prioritizing compassion toward people, not being needlessly wasteful, and cherishing God’s creation.

Psalm 115:17-18 – 17 It is not the dead who praise the Lord, nor any of those descending into the silence of death. 18 But we will bless the Lord, both now and forever. Hallelujah!

This is not suggesting soul sleep or that there’s no worship in heaven (much the contrary). It’s simply saying that, for this life, once we die, we no longer offer God praise on the earth. The opportunities and responsibilities for worshipping God, giving Him glory, doing His work and spreading His word are for the living. And so, the song ends with a loud call of “hallelujah,” which means “Praise the Lord!” We’re to be like all the people involved in passing the olympic torch and keeping it aflame. We are to see what God has done for us and turn around and bless Him back. Of course, we cannot do for Him what He has done for us. But we can turn back and bless Him with loving, obedient, joyful hearts, full of praise and confidence.

Verse 17 gives us one more thing to think about: It’s a way for us to judge whether we’re spiritually dead or not. To be spiritually alive means we not only believe God and trust Him, but that we are praising Him, blessing Him, diverting the flow of our lives to bring Him glory. Are you on an ascending path, leading to heaven or a descending road, leading to death?

All around us there is difficulty, darkness, not to mention the jeers of the unbelieving world. We can still be sure God is good, that He is with us and that we can trust Him.

When Charles Blondin invited his manager, Harry Colcord onto his back for what seemed an impossible journey, he gave his manager the following instructions: “Look up, Harry.… you are no longer Colcord, you are Blondin. Until I clear this place be a part of me, mind, body, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself.”

God invites us to rest securely in Him on this death-defying walk from shore to shore. He can do what no other god can. He can and will deliver us across. We want to be people who don’t simply watch with the crowd, but join Him in the fantastic, bringing Him glory through the offering of our lives. He’s ready to take us on and He can be trusted, both now and forever. Hallelujah!

Prophecy Update #636 – Build Back Better Worry

These are exciting times for believers in Christ. Especially if you are interested in Bible prophecy. Oddly, many believers are ignoring prophecy, even ridiculing those who think it is relevant to current events.

The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) changed its position on end times doctrine. The denomination recently voted to drop the word “premillennial” from its statement of faith.

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to suggest news, or trends, that seem to be predicted by the many yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies in the Bible.

We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news. It helps not to be accused of sensationalism – sadly, something all too common among some who talk about the End Times.

We’re not saying the things we report are the fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect in light of the Bible’s unfulfilled prophecies.

The final book of the Bible, the Revelation, predicts what the world will look like in the End Times – especially during the seven year Great Tribulation. The world will be under the rule of one government, one economic system, and one leader.

A global, one-world order, is being openly pursued by many of the world’s most powerful men.

The movement has a name – the Great Reset. It is described as “a proposal by the United Nations and the World Economic Forum (WEF) to rebuild the [global] economy sustainably following the COVID19 pandemic.”

The Resetters openly admit that they are taking advantage of the global pandemic to implement their ominous agenda. They see it as their opportunity to correct a world that was broken.

There are certain catch-phrases being used by those in support of the Great Reset. One of them is, Build Back Better.

You might recognize it as the Joe Biden campaign slogan. He has created a website, buildbackbetter.com.

Truth is, the slogan was already in use by Resetters. Biden’s use of it is a deliberate alignment with this movement.

Frank Hill of the North State Journal wrote, “Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” slogan, of which no one knew the meaning or purpose, is a direct lift from The Great Reset Manifesto, let’s call it, concocted by the dreamy-eyed elites of the world who attend annual ritzy, star-studded winter retreats in Davos, Switzerland under the auspices of the World Economic Forum.”

I read a good article about this on Reuters titled, The Great Reset is Trending.

Excerpts:

Put simply, [the Great Reset] is the blueprint for a complete transformation of the world economy. There will be no money, no private property, no democracy. Instead, every key decision – what you do for a living, how much stuff you consume, whether you can take a vacation – will decided for you by unaccountable ‘experts.’

The people pushing for the Great Reset are perfectly open about their plan. Indeed, they can scarcely stop talking about it.

One of these people is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau says: “Building Back Better means giving support to the most vulnerable while maintaining our momentum on reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset. This is our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts to reimagine our economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality and climate change.”

It sounds innocuous enough. But in fact, there is deeper meaning to the phrases [Trudeau] uses: ‘Building Back Better’; ‘2030 Agenda’; ‘Sustainable Development; and ‘reset’ are all buzzwords for the complete transformation of the global economy in order to create a New World Order.

Radical changes are coming that some pundits have referred to a ‘before coronavirus’ (BC) and ‘after coronavirus’ (AC) era. We will continue to be surprised by both the rapidity and unexpected nature of these changes.

Many of us are pondering when things will return to normal. The short response is: Never. Nothing will ever return to the [so-called] ‘broken’ sense of normalcy that prevailed prior to the crisis because the coronavirus pandemic marks a fundamental inflection point in our global trajectory.

https://www.breitbart.com/europe/2020/11/18/the-great-reset-is-trending-heres-why/

I don’t know what is going to happen with the Great Reset. It seems as though we are on the brink of the changes that will prepare the world’s population for the Great Tribulation.

I’m simply pointing out that this was predicted over 2000 years ago by John in the Revelation. Simultaneously we’re seeing the implementation and widespread acceptance of invasive biometric technologies that could be the precursors of the socio-economic system that will eventually be usurped by the antichrist.

The apostle Paul noted that the god of this age has blinded the eyes of nonbelievers. They need the light of the Gospel. That needs to be priority one with us. The church’s mission never changes: Go, and as you are going, make disciples.

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will definitely happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will return in the clouds. He will raise the dead in Christ. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies.
We will all join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!