Jesus takes pride in His Church ~ Jon Courson

Jesus takes pride in His Church

As we do every year for his birthday, Peter John and I traveled to the Bay Area last August to see the Oakland A’s battle the Cleveland Indians. Quite honestly, however, although taking in a ballgame has become a tradition for Peter and me, I’m not sure I’m ever going again. You see, I have some big problems with big-league baseball.

Every time I go to the coliseum, I’m asked for money. And none of the people sitting next to me introduced themselves. The manager never paid a call on me, never welcomed me to the coliseum, and didn’t even know my name. And then there’s all those hypocrites in the stands, like the ladies polishing their nails and talking about what everyone was wearing.

Behind me were some fanatics who were worse than the hypocrites. Every time Jose Canseco got on base, they stood up and cheered and looked silly. And the umpires? Some of their calls were ridiculous. I’m sure I know more about baseball than they do. As for Peter, I don’t want to force him to go to major-league baseball games any more. I’ll let him decide for himself when he’s older.

Now, if someone said that, we would think he was crazy. Those reasons are all bogus. And yet, why is it that no one protests when those same objections are raised concerning church? Those are the exact reasons people give for not going to church: too fanatical; too hypocritical; too much talk about money; the pastor didn’t call on me; the people weren’t friendly; I’ll let my own kids decide eventually.

Our generation, it seems, has rejected church. In fact, I remember seeing a bumper sticker in the 60’s which sort of summed up our generational mentality: ‘Jesus Yes. Church No.’ And a lot of people are in that place. ‘Yeah, I’m into Jesus, but I’m not into the Church. No way.’

I’m here to say that I am really into the Church. You might think, ‘Well of course you are. You’re a pastor.’ But let me tell you — I am not into the Church because I’m a pastor. I am a pastor because I am into the Church.

The passage before us in Matthew 16 is very important for it is the first time Jesus Christ uses the word ‘church’. There is a principle of hermeneutics called the Principle of First Mention, which says: You will usually find key foundational understandings about a subject in the first place it is mentioned. Thus, when Jesus first mentions it in Matthew 16, we find four reasons why the Church is essential.

Jesus takes pride in His Church.

. . . upon this rock I will build my church . . . Matthew 16:18
The language is important. It speaks of a possessiveness, of an intimacy with us. Jesus didn’t say, ‘I will build a Church’, or ‘I’ll put up with the Church.’ He said, ‘I will build My Church.’ Jesus is proud of His people.

For both he that sanctifieth [Jesus] and they who are sanctified [us] are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. Hebrews 2:11-12

The writer of Hebrews declares Jesus is proud of us. Not ashamed of us, He sings praise to the Father right along with us in the midst of the congregation. Why isn’t He ashamed of us? Because He sees us in our potentiality.

When Jesus first called Peter, He said, ‘I call you Petros, ‘Small Rock’, because I’m going to change you from one who is unsteady to someone who’s solid, stable, useful.’

  1. Jesus sees us potentially. Jesus doesn’t see us with our present flaws, but in our potential usefulness.
  2. Jesus sees us prophetically. Because we are already in heaven, seated with Christ, He sees us as already perfect.
  3. Jesus sees us positionally. Jesus sees us robed in His righteousness, washed with His blood. Our sins, failures, and shortcomings are completely out of His sight and gone from His memory.
So He looks at us potentially, prophetically, and positionally and sees us as perfect. Incredible! This past week the Lord has dealt very deeply in my own heart along these lines, telling me to look not on the outward appearance, but on the heart — the way He looks at me.

I have discovered I have a tendency to judge people according to their actions, but to judge myself according to my intentions. And the Lord spoke to my heart, saying, ‘Jon, your world would be a whole lot sweeter if you reversed that. Judge yourself by what you do, but judge others by what they meant.’

Wouldn’t it be radical if we looked at people that way? At their intentions rather than their actions? That’s the way Jesus looks at His Church. He says, ‘I see your hearts, and I’m proud of you.’

Jesus prevails through His Church.

. . . and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18
For many years, a lot of us thought that the Church was a refuge, a fortress where we could hole up until the Lord came back. The gates of hell would not prevail against us if we huddled together within the Church singing, ‘Hold The Fort Til The Lord Comes’. But that’s not what Jesus meant.
Gates don’t prevail in and of themselves. I mean, how many of you have ever been attacked by a gate? No. Jesus is saying, ‘The gates of hell will not hold back My Church.

I am going to prevail through My Church. I will storm the gates of hell, where people have been held in bondage, where there has been darkness, discouragement, disease and death. I will prevail through My Church.’ When Jesus wants to touch someone in love or talk to someone about salvation, He storms the gates of hell through us, His Church.

Jesus protects by His Church.

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:19

Dr. Kenneth Wuest gives this proper translation: ‘Whatever shalt be loosed on earth shalt be loosed even as it is in heaven.’ Jesus protects by His Church, giving her the keys of His Kingdom.

If you look at Tammy’s keychain, you will see the same identical keys I have on my keychain. I’m her bridegroom. She’s my bride. And she has the same keys I do. Why? Because we share authority. We rule together over our Volkswagen fleet and our house. We are one.

So too, Jesus Christ, the Head, has given His bride, the Church, the keys to His Kingdom. What does this mean? In Matthew 18 and John 20, this same concept is reiterated. Matthew 18 deals with relationships, while John 20 deals with the forgiveness and the retaining of sin. What Jesus is saying is, ‘I’m giving authority to the church, to bring together or to loosen, even as it is happening in heaven.’

If people within the Church are having problems with one another, they are to work them out individually. But if they can’t, it’s a matter for the Church to deal with corporately. It’s not that we make those decrees ourselves; but through the Word by the Spirit, the Church can speak with authority, unlocking God’s truth and revealing God’s heart.

You see, those who say, ‘I don’t need Church. I’ll just do my own thing. I’ve got my own ideas about the Gospel and about worship,’ are vulnerable to anyone who comes along saying, ‘Let’s go to Guyana, or to Waco, and we’ll start a whole new movement. Who cares about Church history? Who cares about theology? Who cares about collegiality? We’ll do our own thing.’

That’s what happened with Jim Jones/David Koresh. Hundreds were killed because they strayed from the protection which comes from the Church, the authority of binding and loosing. And thus, there was death. Any Christian who ignores the Church will become vulnerable to needless bruises and wounds. The question arises: ‘Why have so many people in our generation rejected the Church?’ I suggest one reason:

Jesus is the priority of His Church.

Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? Matthew 16:13
Jesus had come to Caesarea Philippi, 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. At Caesarea Philippi, where the waters of the Jordan begin, there is a massive rock face — sort of like a miniature El Capitan. It’s one of the prettiest spots I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

There, Jesus gathered His boys and asked this question: ‘Whom do men say I am?’ His disciples then repeated the theories concerning Him that were floating around Israel . . . ‘Some say You’re John the Baptist.’

John the Baptist came on the scene, saying, ‘Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand. You soldiers, quit oppressing the people. You tax collectors, quit extorting from the people. You fathers, be good to your children. Get it together. Repent.’ When Jesus appeared, He began His ministry with the same words: Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

So, reasoned some, because of His moral teaching and call to repentance, Jesus must be John the Baptist, returned from the dead.

Others said, ‘No. He’s Elijah, returned from heaven. Haven’t you seen the miracles He’s done? The lepers are cleansed. The blind see. The lame walk. Miracles happen. He must be Elijah.’

Others said, ‘No. He’s Jeremiah. ‘Haven’t you seen the care He shows to the lost, how they move His heart, how He weeps over them? He must be Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet who cared so tenderly for the lost sheep of Israel.’

‘No,’ others said. ‘He must be That Prophet,’ referring to the prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18:15, who would come and fully explain the Law of Moses. Scripture records that the people marveled at the gracious words of Jesus saying, ‘No man speaks like this man.’ Truly, the common people heard Him gladly. Surely He must be ‘That Prophet’.

As I look around the country and the world, I see churches built upon one of those four misconceptions . . . There are those who say, ‘We’re going to build our church on John the Baptist. That’s who Jesus is. We’ll call it First Moral Majority Church. We’ll tell our community to repent. We’ll picket 7-11. We’ll write our congressman. We’ll organize and let our voice be heard in the community. We’ll tell people to get it together morally. And we’ll meet together to activate believers, to mobilize Christians, to get them going.’

Others say, ‘No, no, no. Our church is going to be built upon Elijah. That’s who Jesus is. We’ll call our church Miracle Center. It will be filled with miracles, signs, and wonders. People will see the glory and power of God fall at every single meeting. It’s going to be heavy!’

Others say, ‘No, no, no. Our Church is going to be built upon Jeremiah. That’s who Jesus is. We’ll call our church The Evangelical Expression. We’ll have a million-dollar mission budget. We’ll offer classes in door-to-door evangelism. We’ll spread throughout the community, expand throughout the world globally, and we’ll reach the world evangelistically. Like Jeremiah, we’ll weep over the lost.’

‘No, no, no,’ others say. ‘Our church is going to be built upon That Prophet. We’ll have three-hour marathon Bible studies Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. We’ll have seminars and syllabi. We’ll become hermeneutically flawless, exegetically excellent. We’ll offer Hebrew, Greek, Chaldean, and Aramaic. We’ll parse each verb. We’ll know each doctrine thoroughly. We’ll become a great teaching center.’

Look at our text. Jesus responded to none of these suggestions. It was only when Peter said, ‘Thou art the Christ — the Christos, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Son of the living God,’ that Jesus said, ‘Upon this rock I’ll build My Church.’ The Church which is not a platform for ministry or political activity or intellectual curiosity — the Church which simply says, ‘We want to know Jesus personally’ — is the Church Jesus will build.

When people say, ‘Jesus, You’re not simply a motivator for us politically; a teacher to us intellectually; a power for us miraculously; nor a program for us in mission ministry. You’re Everything. You’re all there is. We just want to know You. We want to love You. We want to walk with You and learn about You and become more like You,’ Jesus will build His Church upon their confession. And when a group of people come together and say, ‘Jesus we love You. We’re impressed with You. We want to learn of You and walk with You,’ guess what happens? The community around such a group begins to change.

A sheriff in Jackson County who is not a believer wrote me saying that as far as he is concerned, the Fellowship is the best thing that ever happened to curb the drug problem here in the Applegate Valley because so many of the top drug producers in the valley have become converts. Are we marching against marijuana? Are we politically active? No. It’s just that wherever Jesus is, the surroundings will be influenced very definitely.

Where Jesus builds His Church, there will be signs and wonders. Power will be experienced — not with fanfare, nor for itself — but in a supernaturally natural way. Where Jesus is the Christos, loved and honored, there will be evangelism — not because of a need to be a part of some program for ego-gratification, but rather because people will want to share what they have discovered in Christ. They will be in love with Him and will find themselves talking about Him — taking every opportunity to share the One Who means so much to them.

The person who is rock-solid in this life and on into eternity will be the one who says, ‘Jesus, it’s You personally. Not ministry. Not study. Not anything but You.

I appreciate You, I love You, and I’m committing myself to You. Jesus, You’re everything to me.’ That’s my prayer for us. That’s my prayer for you. In Jesus’ Name.

Chuck Smith Prayer 101 “God Wants to Bless You”

God Wants to Bless You

Second Chronicles tells us of King Asa’s calling
upon the Lord. When he first came to the throne, the King was faced with a very difficult situation—the Ethiopians had invaded the land with a million-man army and 300 chariots. King Asa cried out to God,

LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with
many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee. —2 Chronicles 14:11

He knew the odds against him surviving
meant nothing to God. If God be for us, who can be against us? God and you make a majority. The Lord was with Asa, and the king went out and destroyed the Ethiopian armies.

When King Asa returned from victory the
prophet Azariah met him and said, The LORD is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you. —2 Chronicles 15:2

Asa began to prosper. He became very strong and powerful. In the later years of his reign he was threatened again. But this time, the threat came from Baasha, the king of the northern tribes of Israel, who was building fortified cities north of Jerusalem in preparation for an invasion. King Asa took money out of the treasury and sent it to hire Ben-Hadad, the king of Syria, to invade Israel from the north. This caused Baasha to withdraw his troops from invading Judah and to deploy them to defend the northern border. It was a clever and successful strategy that worked. However, rather than seeking the Lord in prayer, he sought human help. The prophet Hanani came to him and rebuked him for seeking the aid of man rather than the help of God. The prophet reminded him of how the Lord had helped him against the Ethiopians at the beginning of his reign, and he declared,

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout
the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him —2 Chronicles 16:9

Here the Bible is declaring one of the basic
truths of God. He is looking for people to bless. God wants to work in your life and bless you. He wants to use you as one of His channels, as one of His instruments. But He’s waiting for you to come into alignment with His plan. The moment your life comes into harmony with the purposes of God, you become a channel through which God’s power and love can flow to a needy world.

God is looking for people whose hearts are in tune with His desires. Thus, the greatest prayer is “Lord, bring me into harmony with Thy will.” You can’t improve on that. But it has to be more than just lip service. It must come from the heart. And that’s not easy.

There are so many things I want done, and so
many of my prayers reflect selfishness. So many of my petitions are for things that would bring me comfort, ease, and happiness. But the real purpose of prayer is to see the work of God accomplished in my life and then, through my life, in the lives of others.

I believe that God intends to give you every
right thing that you pray for, but His timing is often different than yours. Many times God delays the answers to your prayers for a very good reason.

One reason God may delay an answer to
your prayer is that He desires to give you more than what you were asking for at the moment.

Hannah is a good example of this. She had
been barren for years. Her husband had another wife with many children. Day after day Hannah’s barrenness plagued her.

One day Hannah and her husband were traveling
to the tabernacle while the other wife stayed at home with the kids. On their journey to Shiloh her husband asked, “Hannah, why are you so sad?”

Hannah replied, “Give me children.”

He responded, “Am I God that I could give
you children? Aren’t I better to you than many sons? Aren’t you satisfied with me?”

When Hannah arrived at the tabernacle the
agony of her heart was so great that she couldn’t even utter her request. She felt the grief so deeply that she just lay before God in the court of the tabernacle. Her lips were moving, but she made no sound with her voice.

Eli the priest passed by and saw Hannah
prostrate before the Lord. He thought she was drunk and ordered her to stay away from wine. Hannah said, “No, I am not drunk. But the handmaiden of the Lord is grieved because she is barren. I’ve been pleading with God to give me a son. If He will give me a son, I have promised to give him back to God all the days of his life” (1 Samuel 1).

That’s what God wanted to hear from Hannah, because God needed a man. The state of the nation Israel was so corrupt that there wasn’t a man around for God to use. Before God could get a man, He had to get a woman. Therefore, He dealt with Hannah’s heart.

Hannah had been praying for a son for many years—a son for her own joy and pleasure, a son that would put an end to the taunts from the other wife. Hannah had prayed, “Lord, give me a son. Take away the shame.” But finally she prayed, “Lord, give me a son. And I’ll give him back to You all the days of his life.” Hannah had finally come into harmony with the purposes of God.

The priest told her, “Go in peace. The Lord
has heard your prayer. You will have a son.” Hannah went home and God gave her a son, Samuel. He became a prophet, a priest, and one of the most outstanding leaders of God’s people in the Old Testament. Yes, God wanted to give Hannah a son all the while. But He delayed the answer to her prayers, so that He might work in her heart until she would be aligned with His purpose.

Do not get discouraged when God delays the answers
to your prayers. He may want to give you so much more than what you’ve been asking for.

God knows the right time to answer our
prayers. Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they receive:

The promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have
heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence…ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. —Acts 1:4–5,8

After Jesus spoke these things, while His followers
were standing with Him on the Mount of Olives in Bethany, He ascended into heaven, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

The disciples returned to Jerusalem and continued
steadfastly in prayer in one accord. The Bible says that they continued to wait till the day of Pentecost had fully come. It would have been possible for God to have poured out the Holy Spirit on them in the first ten minutes, but for His own purposes He saw fit to wait approximately seven days (Acts 1–2).

How long are you to persist in prayer? Until
you get an answer—either a yes or no.

How Do We Love God Practically - Part 1 (God's Way of Agape)

How Do We Love God Practically - Part 1
by Nancy Missler
David Needham, author of the book Birthright, states, "...the big task is not the finding of the truth, but the living of it!" I agree with him completely. What good are God's principles if they don't work in our hearts and change our lives?

With this in mind, let's put all we have learned so far (in our series "Loving God") into practical use. What are the steps in the moment by moment laying down of our wills and our lives to God? In other words, how do we love (agapao) God daily?

My Survival Kit

There are eight steps to what I call my "Survival Kit." These are steps that God has laid out for us in scripture to help us deal with our sin and become open and cleansed vessels for His use.

I literally go through these steps at least once a day, and sometimes as many as two and three times a day if I am dealing with something very difficult or extremely painful. These are the eight steps "back to freedom" of Spirit.

The first four steps, which we will cover in this article, are really formalities. These are attitudes we need to form daily. These are not steps we have to do each time we quench God's Spirit, but simply attitudes we need to have "on" each day. We might go over these prayerfully each morning, to remind ourselves to be cleansed vessels.

The final four steps of the Survival Kit are mandatory steps, ones we must do each time we sin and quench His Spirit. These four steps are known as the "inner Court Ritual," because they are the actual steps the priests took in the Inner Court of the Temple in order to deal with their sin. (These four steps will be covered in detail in Parts 2 & 3 of this series.)

I recommend putting each of these steps (especially the last four) on 3x5 cards. Keep the cards with you at all times. Then when something occurs, take out the cards, go through the steps, and choose by faith to believe that God has reconciled you to Himself. Because He is faithful, once again His Life will pour forth through you.

Going through these steps every time we are confronted with a hurtful remark, a painful situation, pride, fear, resentment, bitterness, etc., is what enables us to be cleansed and prepared vessels for what God might call us to do next.

So let's explore the "attitudes" that are essential to walking in God's Way of Agape.

Living Sacrifices

1) First, we need to have an attitude of continually "presenting our bodies [to God] as living sacrifices." (Romans 12:1-2) What we are doing here is willingly giving God our permission to walk through us and to expose anything that needs to be dealt with.

On a daily basis, we should be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to expose what He wants to in each of us.
We don't have to "feel" this first step. In fact, most of these steps won't be felt at all, they will simply be "faith choices" or contrary choices.

As we are opening ourselves up to God, we must always remember how much He loves us and that he is always faithful to His promises.

A good prayer to pray is Psalm 19:12-13, "Cleanse thou me from hidden or secret faults. Don't let them have dominion over me." Also, Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, and know my heart and see if there be any wicked way in me."

Denying Ourselves

2) The second crucially important attitude we need to have "on" each day is one of continually denying ourselves, denying our own "justified" feelings, our own rights, our own frustrations, our offenses, and so on. This is something that we do on the "inside" (setting aside our own thoughts, emotions, and desires). Denying ourselves on the "inside" is often much harder to do that denying ourselves "outwardly" (careers, positions of prominence, material things -- houses, cars, clothes, etc.).

Emotionally, this will be a very hard step because it hurts to lay ourselves down, especially when we are "justified" in feeling the way we do.

Each time we struggle with this, I would suggest reading all of Philipians 3:8-15, where Paul says, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord!"

We must ask ourselves, "Am I really more concerned with doing God's Will in my life then I am my own happiness?" There will be many times when we must choose to do God's Will, knowing temporarily it will not bring us happiness. But, of course, the lasting joy that will come from being in the center of His Will is something to which nothing can ever compare.

Luke 14:26 reminds us that we really cannot be God's disciples unless we are "willing to" (not wanting to, not feeling like it, but just willing to) lay everything down (father, mother, wife, children, brethren, sisters). "Yea," He says, "even our very own lives!"

Remember, we don't have to "feel" willing in order to do this, we simply must be willing! (Big difference!)

Several years ago, I went to lunch with some dear old friends and we began to talk about how very important it is to simply "be willing" to deny ourselves and follow God. One of the gals said, "Nancy ,I don't agree. I think some people just don't have the ability or the capability to lay everything down and do it God's way."

She then gave various reasons why she was convinced they couldn't: "Because they came from dysfunctional families, co-dependent situations, poor marriages, physical abuse circumstances, emotional problems, etc."
I said, "I really don't believe that's true! If they are Christians, then God is in them. And He is the One who makes them capable and gives them the ability to deny themselves.

I believe all Christians are capable of laying themselves aside (because God is in them), but not all Christians are willing to do so! That, to me, is the bottom line!"

God has all the Love, all the Wisdom, and all the Power they need.

When we are "willing to lay everything down," God promises us in Luke 18:30 (as well as in many other places) that He will return a hundred-fold, "in this life" as well as in the world to come, all that we have chosen to give to Him.

Get up and Do What God Says

3) Another crucial attitude we must have is that of being willing to obey God's Will, no matter what He tells us to do (no matter how we feel, no matter what we think ,no matter what we want). We are to get up and be willing to do exactly what God has asked us to do.

The attitude we just spoke about in step #2 (denying ourselves) concerns our "inner man" (setting aside our own thoughts, emotions, and desires, so God can fill us with His Life). This next step of "obeying God's Will" is different. It concerns the "outer man" - our outward actions.

It's getting up and doing in action what God has called us to do, saying, "Not my will, but thine" (Matthew 26:39). Or like Peter said, "At Thy Word, I will" (Luke 5:5). Again, trusting that God will perform His Will and His Life through us.

We are emotional creatures and God is asking us here to set aside our own emotional responses and choose to act totally out of faith. Again, we don't have to "feel" willing in order to do this, we must just "be" willing.
2 Corinthians 8:11 says, "As there was a readiness to will, so there must be a performance also." If this is a difficult step, I would suggest reading Philippians 2:5-9. This is the passage that talks about being "obedient unto death," not only on the inside choosing to lay aside our own thoughts and emotions, but now, on the outside getting up and doing in action whatever God has called us to do.

Take Every Thought Captive

4) The final attitude we must have in order to walk God's Way of Agape is to be willing to take every thought captive.
2 Corinthians 10:5-6 says, "Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled."
[Note: The four steps of the Inner Court Ritual, which we will cover in Part Two are how we "revenge all disobedience."] 

Remember, our thoughts stir up our emotions; our emotions then influence our desires; and our desires are what produce our actions. This is why we need to go after the ungodly thoughts first and take them captive.
If we can catch these negative thoughts first, then we prevent the chain reaction before it even begins.
When we don't take every thought captive and we don't put off our corrupt thoughts and we just go along with the "tide of emotion," we end up confused, discouraged, and depressed. And, of course, that's just exactly what the enemy wants.

It takes constant discipline and effort to continually recognize our negative thoughts and to renew our minds. Sometimes it would be a lot easier to just give in and let those wild emotions rule. But do you know what happens when we do this? We die! If we don't take those ungodly thoughts captive, they take us captive.

Remember, we are not responsible for the original self-centered, negative, or bad thought when it first comes in. It's what we choose to do with that thought that produces the sin or not.

If we recognize the ungodly thought and choose to give it right over to God, then we have not sinned and we have not quenched His Spirit. However, if we don't do anything with that thought, and we allow it to stir up self-centered feelings, then it will be sin.

It's critical to be aware of, recognize, and then catch the ungodly thoughts as they come in. We are to refuse them, crucify them and annihilate them. We are not to even think them, let alone speak them!

As Philipians 4:8 says, we need to fill our minds with good things...
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
So, it's imperative that we have "on" a godly attitude each day. If we are cleansed and prepared vessels, then we will be ready and available for whatever it is that God might call us to do next.
In Part Two, we will begin to explore the "mandatory steps" of loving God daily.

My Fascination With The Pre-Trib Rapture

By Todd Strandberg

In this article, I hope to briefly explain why after more than 20 years of study, I remain captivated by the pre-trib rapture doctrine.

My Fascination With The Pre-Trib Rapture
Ever since the early 80s, I've maintained a deep fascination with the pre-trib rapture. I don't recall when I first heard of the rapture, but I do know I instantly realized that this event would someday demand the world's attention.

Modern-day society has witnessed some rather distressing events over the past century. We've seen the assassination of world leaders, national and international wars, and disasters of every sort. All of these events have left deep scars on the psyche of humanity. However, I think these events will pale in comparison to the panic that will be caused by the pre-trib Rapture.

The rapture will someday give a new meaning to the word "shock." For the U.S., the attack on Pearl Harbor and the September 11 terrorist attacks currently rank as the most startling events in our nation's history. When the rapture takes place, I am convinced it will be 100 times more shocking than Pearl Harbor and September 11 combined.

In the past, no single event has managed to touch each individual on a personal level. For example, very few people in 1941 had even heard about Pearl Harbor, let alone knew someone involved in the incident. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon fall into the same category. Everyone saw the calamity on television, but it's unlikely that more than 1% of the US population knew any of the victims who worked in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, or who were aboard the commercial airliners hijacked by the terrorists.

On the other hand, after the Rapture takes place, everyone left behind will know someone who was mysteriously taken away. It could be a neighbor, a distant cousin, or a person's entire immediate family.

Some prophetic commentators have tried to predict that there will only be a few halfhearted questions like, "Where did everybody go?" Simple logic dictates that the people who find themselves left behind will be absolutely terrified by what has taken place.

I can only guess at the level of interest the press, government, and public will pay to the rapture, but I'm sure it will be immense. As a result of the catching away of the Bride, I believe many individuals will turn to Christ and become numbered with the tribulation saints.

It's So Near

If it looked like the pre-tribulation rapture was going to transpire 100 years from now, there probably wouldn't be a pressing need for me to quickly assemble a website devoted to the subject. However, I believe we are getting very near to the end of what is called the Church Age, so I have been rushing to put together a comprehensive site on Bible prophecy.

Because the rapture is an event that will take priority over all other aspects of our life, it is very important for us to be mindful of its nearness. Death is the only other comparison one could use to describe the type of impact the rapture implies.

The rapture has always been an imminent event, but we now have the luxury of being able to look at history and realize there were a number of key end time prophesies that required several years to evolve into where we see them today. Before May 15, 1948, we only had hope that Israel would once again become a nation. It wasn't until the late 1990s that China gained the ability to field a 200-million-man army. Jan 1, 2002 stands as the date the Revived Roman Empire reestablished the practice of having a common currency.

I keep a close watch on dozens of prophecy-related categories and in the last few years I've noticed an exponential increase in the rate of prophetic progression. In many cases, I can clearly see we have already arrived at the point of fulfillment--no waiting or further development is really required. The final implementation of those end time factors is the only thing lacking.

The Great Transformation

When describing the rapture, most prophetic writers like to focus on the negative consequences of the event. Yes, if the driver of a car were to suddenly vanish, the vehicle would spin out of control. The tribulation is said to be a time of unparalleled distress, so I doubt a few traffic accidents will amount to any lasting significance.

As believers, we will have more important things with which to concern ourselves. Our main focus should be on the heavenly realm. Once we get to glory, we will be confronted with a world of absolute splendor.

Jesus said each believer will receive his own heavenly mansion. If we each have a spacious estate waiting for us, I see no reason for a Christian to strive to build an earthly mansion. I find it rather odd that so many well-known preachers spend large sums of money on ritzy housing and fancy cars. If they had a true understanding of eternal value, you would think they would buy modestly so that they could reinvest their financial gains into the spreading of the Gospel.

"But as it is written, 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him'" (1 Cor 2:9).

"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" (John 14:2).

Losing Everything; I Mean Everything

I once took a tour of the United States Air Force's Strategic Command Post at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The center is charged with tracking the movements of anything that could deploy nuclear weapons: missiles, aircraft, or ships. It's the first layer of command that would order a nuclear counterattack. The command center would obviously be the prime target of any potential enemy.

While I was in the control room, I asked the sergeant giving us the tour, "What would you folks do if you knew a missile was headed in your direction?" His reply was, "I guess we'd open the snack bar up to all takers." I was struck by how true it would be in that situation in which money would have no value. A standard 10-megaton nuclear device exploding over the base would leave nothing but a giant hole in the ground.

For Christians, the rapture will bring devastation similar to that wrought by a nuclear war. When the trumpet sounds, all followers of Christ will instantly lose all of their worldly belongings. As a believer, you might have $20 million in the bank, a fancy home, a yacht, or your own prosperous business, but come the rapture, you can wave all that stuff goodbye as you soar skyward.

The Christian community holds wealth that is easily valued in the $1 to $2 trillion-dollar range. Knowing the total funding for global evangelization efforts amounts to a few hundred million dollars each year, our priorities are certainly in need of reevaluation.

I can testify that I have personally put my own money where my mouth is. During the most recent one-year period, I estimate I've spent $4,000 on this Rapture Ready site. Because I know the money I allocate to the site is being deposited in my eternal bank account, I view the funds as going to a blind trust fund.

I don't expect to be around to see Social Security, so it doesn't trouble me whether or not predictions of its distant future insolvency turn out to be true. Whenever oil prices zoom up, many people worry that we're going to either run out of gasoline or that it will become prohibitively expensive. At the end of each episode, however, the supply and the price always manage to return to more reasonable levels.

Because we don't know exactly when Jesus is coming for the Church, I believe it is wise to make long-term plans. The key, I believe, is not to allow ourselves to be distracted by trivial issues. We should concern ourselves mostly with today, and let tomorrow take care of itself.

When the catching up takes place, I expect to be flooded with a number of regrets over things I should have accomplished. It's the realization that our good deeds are the only possessions we will take with us that motivates me to keep pressing ahead.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Mat 6:19-20).

The Benefits Of Being Rapture Ready

One of the most obvious benefits of being ready for the rapture is not having to suffer through the tribulation. Here are four passages that indicate that believers will not be left to suffer the outpouring of God's wrath:

"Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21:36).

"And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

"For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth " (Revelation 3:10).

If you're included in the rapture, you will be taken to heaven--the place that is a synonym for happiness. The Bible tells us that in heaven there are no health problems, moral failures, economic hardships, or marital difficulties.

The most important benefit of being included in the rapture is the chance to finally meet the Lord of Lords face to face. It's hard to envision what that experience will be like, but seeing one';s Creator certainly has to be the ultimate fulfillment of a person's existence.

"Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim 4:8).

"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:2-3).

Mockers And Detractors

Whenever an unbeliever sends me an email message that attacks or mocks the pre-trib rapture, I always think of the irony they are imposing upon themselves. Someday, the rapture will take place, and these folks will be dumbfounded.

Even when I get some rather nasty letters that condemn me to the fires of hell or that label me as a raving lunatic, it doesn't bother me because I know it would be punishment enough for anyone to miss the rapture. I see no need to take the attacks personally. I think after the event, these folks will be blaming me for not trying hard enough to convince them of their folly.

Once the big event takes place, there will be no more arguments over the rapture's validity. I try to set people up to be reachable after the Church is taken home to glory. Because I believe most of my detractors are still searching for truth, I don't return fire by saying things like, "Say hello to the Antichrist for me" or, "Save me one of those 100 lb. hailstones in your freezer. When I get back, I'd love to see what one looks like."

End time scoffers are actually doing me a valuable favor. The Bible says doubters will be one of the signs of the last days. Their strong opposition is what helps drive my fascination with the rapture.

"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts. And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Pet 3:3-4).

Get Ready, Jesus Is Coming

You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. In the Book of Luke, Jesus used a weather analogy to highlight how people failed to use simple logic to recognize the time in which they were living.

The folks who lived in the early part of the first century failed to realize that they were about to witness the revelation of the Messiah. Their error resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Today, people are making an even bigger mistake by not comprehending that this is the generation that will see the fulfillment of the end times.

I've always found it interesting how the salvation issue, both before and after the rapture, is so well balanced. Before the rapture, people need to use faith to overcome the lack of physical evidence for that event. After the rapture, there will be plenty of physical evidence of the event, but then a person will need faith to overcome the trials of the tribulation.

"And he said also to the people, When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time?" (Luke 12:54-56).

"Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Matthew 24:34-35).

If you would like to know more about what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or if you want to know for sure that you belong to Him, you can go to my page, How one becomes a follower of Jesus.

Hallowed or Harmful ~ CBN

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the Celts, inhabitants of Britain and Ireland, observed a festival on October 31.
Unlike modern-day Halloween, theirs was no children’s holiday. The Celts and their priests, the Druids, celebrated Samhain, a festival that marked the eve of the Celtic New Year, which began on November 1.
The fall harvest was complete and the winter loomed ahead. The Celts believed the power of the sun was fading. For the next several months, darkness would prevail.
The Celts believed that during Samhain the veil separating the living from the dead was at its thinnest. They believed that on the evening of October 31 evil spirits and the souls of the dead passed through the barrier and entered the world of the living. Departed family members would revisit their earthly homes.
The thought was frightening – and exciting!
The Celts believed these spirits and dead souls could torment the living. Crops might be destroyed, babies stolen, farm animals killed. But this was also an opportunity to commune with the spirits – and divine the future. The devil, the lord of darkness, was ordinarily feared, but during Samhain, his power would be called on to foretell the future.

The Druids were charged with appeasing the goblins and preventing harm to the people. Huge Samhain bonfires were lit to guide the way of the spirits. Various sacrifices – including human – were performed to assure a good year.

Several ancient authors commented on the gory religious rites of the Druids.

It is believed that, like many pagan cultures around the world, the Celts left food out for the spirits, hoping that a “treat” would prevent an evil “trick.”

Centuries later, descendants of the Celts continued to observe the Samhain festival by dressing as evil spirits. They roamed from house to house demanding food in exchange for the “spirits” leaving the home unharmed. They carved demon faces in hollowed-out turnips and lighted them with candles.

That night, they also practiced many customs designed to divine the future. Young people roasted nuts in Samhain fires to see which would crack first – and tell them who they would marry. The person who retrieved the apple by his mouth from a tub of water was assured of a lucky year. Obviously, some of these customs (like “apple bobbing”) have remained with us, strictly as amusement.

When Christianity began to spread through Europe in the third and fourth centuries, the pagan temples were torn down. But pagan worship never completely disappeared. The festival of Samhain remained a primary pagan festival.

Belief in spirits may have waned, but many of the old Samhain traditions continued to be practiced – especially by the children. Primarily in Ireland, children dressed as spirits went from house to house demanding a treat. If they received none, they performed an unwelcome trick. They were play-acting the part of evil spirits that had to be appeased, just as in the old Samhain festival the people believed they really did have to appease spirits. 

In the 700s, the Church decided to combat this festival by replacing it with a celebration of the Lord of life. Instead of honoring evil spirits and the souls of the dead, the Church chose to recognize the saints – or hallowed ones – who had lived godly lives. The Church seemed to be saying, “All right, if you must have a day to celebrate the dead, then celebrate those who died and are now with the Lord.”

So November 1 came to be called All Saints’ Day, also called All Hallows’ Day. The evening before was called All Hallows’ Evening. From that, we get the modern name of Halloween.

But pagan customs continued. And with the growth of witchcraft in the Middle Ages, additional symbols became associated with Halloween – black cats, witches, bats, and skulls.

Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s brought to America the Halloween customs we’re familiar with – costumes, trick-or-treat, carved Jack-o-lanterns, etc. The Jack-o-lantern is simply an American version of the hollowed-out turnip, mentioned earlier. The pumpkin did not grow in Ireland, but in Britain. Unfortunately, they also brought “tricks” with them – which often involved breaking windows and over-turning sheds and outhouses.

Even though the practice of actually performing a trick if no treat is given has faded, the custom of children going “trick-or-treating” has become an established American tradition. Only in recent years have parents hesitated to send their children into the streets because of the increased danger of accidents, poisoned food, and menacing strangers.

Nonetheless, despite the dangers associated with trick-or-treating, Halloween is celebrated more than ever. In fact, the night is the second most popular party night of the year (after December 31) for “baby-boomer” adults. Many adults look at it as the one night of the year they can dress up and act foolish.

But while children and adults innocently imitate ancient Celtic customs, darker practices persist. Witches and Satanists still consider Halloween to be one of the strongest times during the year to cast a spell. On Halloween, most witchcraft practitioners participate in a ritual called “drawing down the moon.” In this, the chief witch of the coven (group of witches) becomes, they believe, a channel for the moon goddess. During this ritual, the participants, both male and female, are “sky-clad” – that is, naked.
Stonehenge, the mysterious ancient stone formation in England, is often the site for bizarre gatherings of the occultists, some of whom believe they are modern-day Druids. Many people believe that Stonehenge was a Druid religious site. And evidence persists that some Satanist and voodoo groups offer sacrifices – usually animals, but possibly human babies.

Witches and Satanists are, of course, a small minority. Few people who celebrate Halloween these days ever think about the darkness that underlies most Halloween practices.

A beaming child dressed in a black pointed hat and matching gown – with a wart carefully drawn on her nose and trick-or-treat bag held tightly in her hand – is hardly thinking of death or the spirits of departed relatives. Nor should she be.

She’s thinking of candy and fun. She’s glowing because of her delight in her special costume. And she’s anticipating the adventure of her house-to-house pilgrimage.

Merchants also look forward to October 31. The sale of candy, costumes, decorations and party goods make Halloween one of the major retail seasons of the year.

Sure, no one can deny children or adults all the Halloween fun simply because of its unsavory history. Can there really be anything wrong with this lighthearted revelry?

Does the Bible have anything to say about celebrating Halloween?

In Corinth, meat that had been sacrificed to idols was sold in the market. People who bought it then ate it in honor of that particular pagan god. Speaking of his freedom to eat food that a pagan had dedicated to an idol, the apostle Paul said, “Everything is permissible” (1 Corinthians 10:23). After all, he didn’t believe the pagan gods really existed.

If we apply Paul’s statement to the celebration of Halloween, then one could argue that Christians can dress in ghostly costumes and practice the traditions that have been passed down from the ancient Celts. After all, the supernatural powers they tried to appease don’t have power over those who belong to Christ.

The Bible says that Jesus destroyed the power of death when He went to the cross. By Jesus’ death and resurrection, anyone who gives his or her life to Jesus doesn’t need to fear evil.

But Paul didn’t stop with a statement of his freedom. He said, “’Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

It is in this light that Christians need to examine how to observe Halloween.

1. What may not hurt you may hurt others.
Paul said that it wouldn’t harm a Christian to eat meat sacrificed to an idol. After all, the pagan gods that the meat had been sacrificed to weren’t real gods. In the same light, he probably would say that Christians are not prohibited from dressing in costumes and going trick-or-treating or attending Halloween parties. After all, “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4).
But Paul went on to say that by doing what the believer was free in the Lord to do, the believer may be distressing another believer who doesn’t realize he has this freedom. “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). The weak ones would be those who still had problems with the idea of eating the food sacrificed to idols.
During Halloween, little children in particular are the weak ones. On TV, in movies, in school, and with their playmates, many children today are exposed to occult influences. We may be opening our children to these influences if we approve of these things in Halloween fun. We adults may be fully aware that we are only spoofing witches and ghosts, but the young may not be so sure.
If we have given our lives to Jesus Christ, then our eternal destiny is safe in the hands of the Almighty God. But that’s not true of most people around us.
There is a valid reason for most people to fear a “lord of death” – even if they don’t take him seriously on Halloween. We who have found life in Jesus should be careful that our freedom doesn’t keep others from finding that same eternal life.
2. Some permissible things may hinder your Christian growth.
The Bible encourages us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
This one night of the year, most eyes are not fixed on Jesus but on a darker image. The Christian’s “race of faith” leads him to eternal life, to a joy that has no shadow. Should we really be focusing on the devil, witches, and other dark beings, even for one night?
3. God says, “Don’t imitate evil!”
“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who … practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:9-11).
If our children dress as witches and sorcerers, if we hang cardboard ghosts in our windows, if we entertain with tales of ghouls and haunted houses – what are we doing but imitating that which is evil? We need to make it clear as Christians that witches and evil spirits are not funny and not harmless, even if the people in witch costumes are only play-acting.

As Christians, we have plenty of reason to celebrate! While the world around us focuses on activities honoring fear and death, we can celebrate the One who brings life.
The following ideas might help you celebrate October 31 in a way that’s joyful for you and your family:
1. Light the night.
Don’t hide inside – open up your yard to a big neighborhood party! On October 31, people come to our doors expecting to receive something. This is the perfect opportunity to give them God’s love! Be creative about decorating your yard with lights that attract the neighbors – minister to them with prayer and the Word of God. 

Most Christian bookstores carry small pamphlets about the Lord – designed especially for children on Halloween. These can be taped to candy and dropped into each trick-or-treater’s bag.
To find out more about this alternative, visit:
2. Celebrate All Saints’ Day.
Protestants shy away from honoring saints. Their reluctance generally is based on a fear that the honor will cross the line into worship or prayer to saints. We are to worship and pray to no one but God.

However, there is good biblical basis for looking to those who have faithfully followed God in the past. Hebrews 11 has a roll call of believers who have set examples for us. But in his Letters to the Corinthians, Paul makes it abundantly clear that he and other saints are only servants – men and women like ourselves who are following God. And it is God and God alone to whom we look in our worship and prayers.

But with nearly 2000 years of Church history, we can well remember many faithful believers whose lives can encourage us in our walk with the Lord. That can include not only famous figures from the Church’s history, but also the saints we have known personally – people in our own family and our own church who are now with the Lord. While the Celts trembled at the thought of their departed kin returning on Samhain, we can celebrate Halloween and All Saints’ Day by joyfully recalling our own departed saints. (Christians from many Protestant traditions may want to recall that October 31 is also Reformation Day, celebrating Martin Luther’s beginning the Reformation by posting his “Ninety-five Theses” on the church door.)
3. Have a different kind of party.
You can have a fall harvest party, an All Saints’ Day party, or simply a costume party. Have children (and maybe adults, too) dress up as biblical characters and/or figures from Christian history. Or find some other positive theme. Some Christians plan a “Fools for Christ” party (see 1 Corinthians 4:10). This involves costumes and craziness, but none of the traditional symbols of death and witchcraft. Whatever you choose, avoid the usual Halloween symbols in decorations and activities. The way to “celebrate the dead” is by honoring God’s saints, already in heaven, part of the body of Christ that the living saints are also a part of.
4. Hold a Bible study on what God says about the occult and witchcraft.
This might be especially good for teenagers, since they are possibly coming into frequent contact with influences of this type. There has been an amazing growth of witchcraft and Satanism in the U.S. in recent years. Some cultists are attracted especially to the ideas of tapping the “powers of the universe” and of controlling our own destinies.
5. Gather for a prayer and praise meeting.
During this night when Satanists and witches’ covens meet to cast their spells and perform grotesque rituals, it seems appropriate for believers to gather to praise the one and only God.

Praise God for His victory over death, Satan, hell and all evil. (Recall Paul’s words in Romans 16:20: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”) And pray for all the people who don’t know that Jesus Christ wants to give them peace with God and eternal life. Pray that Jesus will reveal Himself to their minds and spirits.
Whatever you choose to do on Halloween, use this biblical guideline as you make your plans: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Halloween’s earliest origins reflect a fear of a lord of death that was common among ancient pagan cultures.

However, despite man’s advances in science and philosophy, death remains for many a troubling event that they cannot avoid.

The Bible says that we have a spirit that, unlike our physical body, endures beyond the grave. However, the Bible also says our spirit is subject to death as well. But God offers us eternal life for our spirits. How do we get it?

First, we must understand that we all will be held accountable for the choices we make. If we choose to ignore God, we’ll face eternal separation – death – from Him (Romans 6:23, Hebrews 9:27).

Nothing we can do, no matter how good it may be, can make us good enough to have a relationship with God without Jesus Christ (Titus 3:5, Ephesians 2:8-9).

But God sent Jesus – our Lord of Life – to be the bridge back to right standing with God. Christ’s death on the cross paid the penalty that we faced for going our own way (Romans 5:8, 1 Peter 3:18).

If you want to receive the eternal life God offers, you must invite Jesus into your life to be your Lord and Savior (John 1:12, Revelation 3:20).


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